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Anyone familiar with Clifford Odets knows it’s never been about the plays as a total but Odets’ phenomenal gift of writing dialogue – superbly visual and allegorically clever, with the characters metaphorically expressing what they feel in their gut.
Last night i saw Odets’ Broadway Revival, “Golden Boy”, at the Balesco theater, a Lincoln Center theater Production. It may have gotten good reviews, i don’t know, but if it wasn’t for a handful exceptionally talented actors in the cast of over a dozen, who made the play watchable, holding it all together, it would have been a total directorial disaster.
Golden it was not – brass is more like it.
Many of the great truly brilliant lines of Odets’ dialogue appeared to’ve been lost on the director, with the actors often times racing through the dialogue as though they had to follow the rhythm of a fast drum-beat. Bartlett Sher, the Director, didn’t allow the actors to give the words a moment to breathe – for the audience to take it in to “see” the metaphor, which is what a Clifford Odets play is all about = “feeling” the emotions of the characters by visualizing the allegories they express. An example is when Joe Bonaparte, ( Golden Boy) tells his girl, ” He’d like it much better if a violin shot bullets” ( paraphrase).
I knew the play, thus knew what was coming, but those who’ve watched it for the first time, or aren’t familiar with Odets could have easily missed that sentence ( as well as many others who were rushed within a dialogue ) which is pivotal to the main character’s personality and says so much about the depth of his inner turmoil; a violinist who feels isolated unable to fight back with but the sounds of a violin, witnessing a world in which one gains respect with the strength of one’s fist, not sensitivity of one’s fingers. The play was stale, staccato, a racing through dialogue not allowing the words to breathe and a miss-cast for the most part.
The lead, though a talented young man, playing the character of Golden boy, looked and came across like a Polish or Russian wise-guy, rather than a sensitive Italian with a passion for music and a heart for fighting. He played an arrogant wise-guy full of himself, rather than a “pained” and sensitive musician trying to find confidence as a man by becoming a boxer.
I fault the Director – it’s the director’s job to lead an actor into the right direction of finding the “core” of a character.
It seemed as though the Director, Bartlett Sher, didn’t get the Character, nor the play, directing it not like a straight play, with a realistic view into the 1930’s, rather seemed to aim at creating a ” parody” of 1930’s “film” actors and acting.
Bartlett Sher should be very grateful for the few exceptional actors in the play not needing direction, able to find the essence of the characters organically, which were Tony Shalhoub, playing the Italian born father of ” Golden Boy” , speaking with a subtle Italian accent; he was a joy to watch and the audience seemed to literally crave to see him because he gave the scenes “reality” and true emotions. One could feel he pain he was feeling just by looking at his face – THAT is acting at its finest.
A highlight cheering up the audience, as well, was a locker room scene with Brad Fleischer, playing a boxer named Pepper White, who showed America that great new talent is still alive in the U.S.A. – this young man impressed everyone and was truly a joy to observe, with such precision acting it was truly heartfelt as well as hilariously funny. Of course the character had great lines, but had he played the character a nuance differently the lines wouldn’t have had the same comedic impact.
Then there is Danny Mastrogiorgio, playing the part of the Golden Boy’s manager, Tom Moody, whose acting and pace seemed to come very natural – he appeared to have sufficient stage experience to make it all work perfectly well and was never anything but believable. Not to forget Danny Burstein, playing the part of Tokio, Joe Bonaparte’s trainer, who was magnificent and kept the play interesting to watch due to his exceptional performance.
Michael Aronov, too, playing “Golden Boy’s ” brother in law, Siggie, was terrific, lively and gave a delightful performance.
But that’s about it. The play itself, for the most, part was lost because of faulty direction = a directorial disaster. It truly is an art by itself to turn one of the great American plays with one of the finest dialogues written in history into a forgettable event; but not surprising considering we’ve entered the age of mediocrity where ” below average” is hailed as
When i first went to see plays and musicals on Broadway some decades ago, the best seats in the house were between $40.00 to $80.00 for top rated and critically acclaimed shows, and each and every show captured the audience attention, leaving them with a feeling of amazement – one would whistle or hum the tunes of original musicals for days to come because they were catchy songs. Those were the days when being on Broadway meant the actors, directors, set designers were the most talented ones in the world. Broadway meant something – but Broadway is no more – it’s no longer the renowned theater district of yesteryear filled with the greatest talent. It’s become a tourist fair-ground and part of time-square, soon to be starring Kim Kardashian in Shakespeare’s
“As you like it” – i wouldn’t be surprised.