Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy" demonstrates how the golden gleam of fame and fortune can tarnish a man's true nature. But there's hardly any tarnish on New Century Theater's production, directed by Mark Redfield and being presented at St. John's ChurchTo the contrary, this carefully designed, insightfully interpreted revival lets the play's nature shine through at the same time that it breathes fresh life into the characters and themes. The result is a morality melodrama that still packs a punch.
The study of a promising young man's deterioration, "Golden Boy" focuses on Joe Bonaparte, a talented violinist who sacrifices the music he loves for the fast money and glory of prizefighting.
Joe loses more than music in the process; he also turns away from his devoted father. In his stead, Joe acquires a surrogate -- a slick racketeer named Eddie Fuselli, who lavishes Joe with the material possessions his struggling father cannot.
Brandon Park is adequate, but not poignant in the title role. Intriguingly, however, in this production it is the contrast between Joe's two "fathers" that provides the most telling indication of Joe's decline. As played by Bob Riggs, gentle Mr. Bonaparte speaks broken English and carries himself with the resignation of someone who feels out of place, but tries not to stand out.
Christopher Wise's menacing Fuselli, on the other hand, has the ramrod bearing and cocky walk of a man who demands recognition. Where Mr. Riggs' expansive gestures suggest a generosity of spirit, Mr. Wise's emotions are as tightly coiled as a spring, and just as cold.
Both men are concerned with Joe's future -- but one measures it in terms of his happiness and the other in terms of lucre; these two fine performances make the distinction undeniably clear.
In the fight game, only one man even attempts to understand Joe -- his trainer, Tokio, sensitively portrayed by Ron Bopst. As Joe's manager, Dan Baileys finds a sympathetic core in a gruff character. But as the manager's mistress -- who falls for Joe despite herself -- Patricia Coleman more convincingly conveys the tramp's heart of gold than her hard exterior.
Although slang and style of dress have changed significantly since "Golden Boy" debuted in 1937, the fast buck is as dangerously alluring as ever. New Century's production is both loyal and alive; it captures the play's period as well as its pertinence.
When: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Through Sept. 28.
Where: St. John's Church, St. Paul and 27th streets.
Tickets: $6 and $7.