Fame and fortune vs. peace of mind and filling the soul. How many tortured individuals have struggled with this quandary.
Enter young Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich–War Horse), eager to make his fortune in the boxing ring, as he talks his way into the office of fight manager Tom Moody (Danny Mastrogiorgio) winning his first round worming his way into the ring for a quick win. Joe is also a gifted violinist living with his father, an Italian-American (Tony Shaloub–Monk), in a low income 1930s Brooklyn apartment with his sister Anna (Dagmara Dominczyk) and her Jewish lug-of-a-husband Siggie (Michael Aronov).
For nearly three hours, you feel as if you’ve been pleasantly transported to a movie-like arena in a film noir. You’re also aware of the fact that they just don’t write ‘em like this anymore! And a cry goes out – where are all the great writers like Clifford Odets?
That aside, this Depression-era, 1937 revival is riveting for just about every moment of the nearly 3 hours, two intermissions at the Belasco Theatre, where Golden Boy first appeared.
As an immigrant old-world father, Shaloub is outstanding as his every emotion oozes physically and facially, with an inner intelligence and understanding. He loves his son, but would rather have him fulfill his soul rather than pursue fame and fortune as a prizefighter. Joe breaks loose in an attempt to prove his worth and his manliness while on a fast track to money and all it can buy – the question, am I “a real sparrow or a fake eagle.” In the mix, he falls for Moody’s girl, Lorna Moon (Yvonne Strahovski, a beautiful Australian actress with a lithe sensitive aura), who knows the score and looks perfect in each of Catherine Zuber’s period costumes.
As Joe wins more and more fights, he attracts mob money as tough guy Eddie Fuseli (Anthony Crivello) wants a piece of him and gets it, treating him like gold and feeding his fragile ego. Joe is like a loose cannon, exploding in the ring and out, trying to free himself of his inner demons, using his cold exterior to get what he wants in the fight business but unable to trade it for his softer side, the violinist, as he attempts to express his love for Lorna, and she for him, exposing his inner conflicts and his love of music.
Numrich is mesmerizing as he transforms from a sweet, susceptible young man to a tough fighter. His inner pain tears and sears at the heart strings as he is always attempting to, somehow, get even with the world around him – – “People have hurt my feelings for years . . . I never forget. You can’t get even with people by playing the fiddle.”
His trainer, Tokio, the always reliable Danny Burstein, is the person he turns to for solace as he distances himself further from his family to arrive at a tragic ending.
The large cast of 20, aside from those mentioned, are superb – from the guys in the locker room, to delightful neighbor Mr. Carp (Jonathan Hadary) who talks Schopenhauer with Mr. Bonaparte.
Bartlett Sher’s directorial hand has moved with the precision of a skillful violinist in this Lincoln Center Theater production.
The clever set design by Michael Yeargan covers a multitude of places – from the interior tenement apartment to the outside brick façade; a park; a gym with boxing rings and a locker room with a shower. There is a lot of moving of furniture but it all works. The lighting design by Donald Holder adds the finishing touches.
“Golden Boy” at the Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street, NYC (212) 239-6200, www.telecharge.com