by MR Anderson
The recent abundance of fledgling theater companies are the great double-edged sword of our new crowdfunding era of the arts. Numerous upstart collectives hit the scene with well-meaning productions of age-old classics, yet often falling flat as ensembles. Whether the result of inexperience, or cutting corners due to financial strain, the ultimate lifespan of a new company can often be divined from their first couple forays in the ring. I am ecstatic to say that The Instigators’ production of Golden Boy hits all the right notes, and lands with a knockout punch.
The Clifford Odets classic is the story of Joe Bonaparte (Fergus Scully), a misunderstood young upstart, in his strikingly unique quest to find himself between his two greatest gifts: his virtuosic violin playing and, much to the bewilderment of his family, prizefighting. Director Lillian Meredith shines through at every step and in the best way possible, seamlessly guiding the narrative with her skillful hand while never leaving a trace of her touch. From start to finish, the show remains a strong and devoted ensemble effort. The minimalist staging allows for some real surprises to shine through, most notably the shockingly high caliber of acting from the uniformly young group.
Fergus Scully makes a triumphant coming-of-age Bonaparte driven by a deep desire to find himself as he writhes against the demon of extraordinary talent while having no true feeling of control over his own destiny. Malachy Silva, as the initially-reluctant manager Tom Moody, has a classical flair that stays grounded in real heartbreak. Aided by the nebbish-y business partner Roxy Gottlieb (played by a love-to-hate-him Brian Dunlop) and doting trainer Tokio (Bryan Hamilton’s sincerity speaks volumes in this den of wolves), the three of them play off each other with excited energy. Taylor Petracek plays the chilling, no-nonsense mobster Eddie Fuseli with menacing presence from start to finish.
Manager Tom Moody’s side girl (and eventual love interest of Bonaparte) Lorna Moon is charming in the hands of Alexandra Allwine, who flaunts an easeful seduction and believable heartbreak with equal aplomb. Neighbors of the Bonapartes, Siggie (Tucker Lewis) and Anna (Elizabeth Seldin) are a delight as newlyweds, giving breath to heavy and tragic moments in the homestead. Mark Couchot is a superb standout at the father, Mr. Bonaparte, who brings out the bittersweet childhood pride and guilt in players and audience alike with a wordless exit or a focused glance. Hunter Hoffman and Kazu Imafuku round out the ensemble well, showing breadth in their various characters. With fantastic musical accompaniment by the (unfortunately) offstage violinist Carolina Meurkens, the night wraps up in a simple, yet rapturous bout.
Though its unfortunately short run ended Sunday afternoon at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, Golden Boy, with its striking, no-nonsense portrayal of a classic work, was a critical chance to catch early efforts of a potentially heavy-hitting company of talented young artists. They have a funding campaign over at http://www.hatchfund.org/project/golden_boy. Though it’s no easy task to get a new company off the ground these days, something tells me The Instigators won’t be giving up without a good, long fight.
Photos: Hunter Ridenour