By: Paulanne Simmons
When playwright Clifford Odets wrote Golden Boy in 1937, he was working as a Hollywood scriptwriter, hoping to make money for the Group Theater, which had produced his previous plays, Waiting for Lefty and Awake and Sing! But Odets was conflicted. He was keenly aware of his personal struggle between art and materialism. So it should not be surprising that this conflict become the subject of what may be his best-known work, Golden Boy.
In Golden Boy, the hero, Joe Bonaparte, represents both sides of the conflict. Although Joe dreams of becoming a violinist, the lure of big money draws him into boxing, with disastrous consequences.
Surely this kind of a plot would not seem to make Golden Boy a promising choice as a fundraiser for a nonprofit. Yet StoPD (Support and Training to Overcome Parkinson’s Disease) produced the play this November at the GK Arts Center in the heart of Dumbo. The reason is that boxing turns out to be very therapeutic for people with Parkinson’s, helping with balance, confidence, and a host of other issues. What’s more, the play features people living with Parkinson’s, onstage in two of the major roles and backstage as members of the production and creative teams.
Nevertheless, the production, co-directed by Aaron Latham and Graydon Gund does not pull any punches. Alex Montaldo is a feisty Joe Bonaparte, spunky and heedless of the wise advice his Italian immigrant father (Ron Shetler) gives him. Montaldo gives Joe an innocence that is both starry-eyed and street-wise. Despite his feints, he’s no match for his promoter, Roxy Gottlieb (James Rich); his manager, Tom Moody (Gregg Prosser) or Moody’s girlfriend, Lorna Moon (Kathleen Simmonds), with whom he very quickly falls in love.
Shetler, who voices most of the tragic content of the play, is particularly effective. And Simmonds does an excellent job balancing the good/bad girl aspects of the “other woman.”
Golden Boy is not without humor, much of it from Joe’s brother and sister-in-law. Montgomery Mauro as Frank, who only wants a little help from his father; and Anna (Mia Christo), who only wants Frank to come to bed at night, provide just enough comic relief.
Fight director Michael Olajide keeps the fights realistic, while set and costume designer Anna Driftmier emphasizes the grittiness of immigrant life and the false glamor of the newly well-off.
If Golden Boy hits the mark artistically, one hopes it also helps in the effort to deliver a knock-out punch to Parkinson’s.
Golden Boy ****
GK Arts Center
29 Jay Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Photos: Christopher Pasatieri