The Art of Boxing

“In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade and he carries the reminders of every blow that laid him down or cut him till he dried out in his anger and his shame, I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”  Paul Simon, The Boxer

Terme Boxer
Terme Boxer

 There has a been a strong connection between boxing and the arts that goes back thousands of years. The Terme Boxer from 1st Century ancient Greece is one of the finest pieces of sculpture ever created, and it shows clearly the face of a veteran boxer who has suffered the blows that Paul Simon wrote so expressively about. Look closely at this work and you will see the broken nose and cauliflower ears that is the trademark of boxers throughout the ages. Note how his hands are bandaged to not only protect his fists, but to also

allow him to inflict more punishment on his opponents. The grim determination in his face is very moving. After a visit to New York City, this warrior is back home in Rome.

Sugar Ray and Sammy Davis Jr. rehearsing Golden Boy
Sugar Ray and Sammy Davis Jr. rehearsing Golden Boy

Fighters have been portrayed in plays and movies over and over again. On the stage Golden Boy, by Clifford Odets first played on Broadway in 1937 with Luther Adler playing the lead role of Joe. The supporting cast was absolutely amazing and included Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Elia Kazan, Harry Morgan, Howard DeSilva, Karl Malden, and John Garfield.  It doesn’t get any better then that. Garfield would go on to play the lead role in a revival of the play in 1952. Garfield also portrayed Charley Davis in the movie Body and Soul, another great boxing movie and his most famous role. Years later Sammy Davis Jr. would step into the same role of golden Boy. He got some expert coaching for the part from a guy who knew a little about boxing, the great Sugar Ray robinson.

In 1997 I had the good fortune to see the world premiere of a new play, Tunney / Shakespeare In Six Rounds. The play was written by David E. Lane and starred Jack Wetherall. Appropriately, it opened at the Merrimack Rep in the great boxing town of Lowell. The story line is based on the time Gene Tunney gave a lecture on Shakespeare at Yale University. Wetherall was superb in the role of Tunney and showed the intellectual side of the great champion who loved Shakespeare as much as boxing. I hope to see it revived some day, as it deserves to be seen by a larger audience.

Rocky The Musical, Doodle by Ken Fallin
Rocky The Musical, Doodle by Ken Fallin

Rocky, The Musical will be opening on Broadway this February. I am curious to see how that is staged. Will Rocky be serenading Apollo Creed? Could be interesting.

Boxing lends itself very well to the big screen. I have already mentioned Body and Soul, but there are so many others. Who can ever forget Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront. His lines, “I could have been a contender” are firmly embedded in the American culture. Robert Ryan was outstanding in the role of Bill Stoker Thompson, the washed up pug stepping into the ring in The Setup, a great film noir and one of the best boxing movies ever made. Ryan had been a champion college boxer and it shows in the fight scenes. Other great boxing movies include Fat City with Stacy Keach, Champion starring Kirk Douglas, and Raging Bull, the life of Jake LaMotta with Robert DeNiro in the lead role. Filmed in balck and white and filled with raw intensity, it is considered one of the best American movies ever made.

Stag at Sharkey's, George Bellows
Stag at Sharkey’s, George Bellows

Both Thomas Eakins and George Bellows did some great paintings of boxers. Bellows was from the Ashcan School of Art and portrayed the fighters in his work as almost blending into each other. Stag at Sharkey’s was his most famous, but he also did a terrific piece with his subject being the Dempsey Firpo fight. Bellows always included himself in his paintings. It is a bit like how Alfred Hitchcock always made an appearance in his films.

Eakins’ work was more traditional but very detailed and impressive. His two most well known boxing pieces are Between Rounds and Salutat. Both were painted in the 1890s and appear to be set in private clubs. They look quite sanitized when compared with Bellows’ work, but are beautiful works.

Shakespeare Boxing

Take some time to explore this connection between the arts and boxing. You will also find plenty of music, literature, and poetry on the subject. It is a rich and fun topic. If Will Shakespeare had been around back in the glory days of boxing, I am sure you would have found him hanging out at Stillman’s Gym.

Happy New Year to all of my readers. I do hope this is a safe year for all those brave boxers who enter the ring, and I hope they are respected and cared about by those who make so much money off of them.

 

 

Rare Film Surfaces

By

Mike Silver

I have been intrigued by the great middleweight boxer Mike Gibbons ever since I read that Gene Tunney tried to duplicate his style. “I learned more about boxing by watching Mike Gibbons in the gym than from any other source”, said Tunney. That is high praise from one of boxing’s all time ring scientists. Mike’s younger brother, Tommy, was also a master boxer but was a bit more aggressive and packed a heavier wallop. He is best remembered for surviving 15 rounds with Jack Dempsey in 1923.

Boxing over Braodway - Gibbons McFarland
Mike Gibbons (right) squares off against Packy McFarland before their 1915

Mike Gibbons was known as “The St. Paul Phantom”. The nickname honored his home town and his uncanny defensive skills. Opponents were constantly missing him with their punches. Gibbons was one of the early pioneers of the “sweet science”, wherein footwork, timing, distance and balance were fundamental to the art. According to Boxrec.com, over the course of a 15 year career (1907-1922) Gibbons had 133 bouts. His three official losses occurred when he was past his prime. Among the many outstanding opponents he faced were Harry Greb, Leo Houck, Ted Kid Lewis, Jimmy Clabby, Soldier Bartfield, Al McCoy, Jeff Smith, Eddie McGoorty and Jack Dillon.

Another quality opponent of Gibbons was middleweight contender Augie Ratner of New York. As an amateur Augie won both National A.A.U. and international welterweight titles. He turned pro in 1915. By the time his 104 bout career ended in 1926 Ratner had fought (on multiple occasions) many of the top fighters of his era, including Harry Greb, Ted Kid Lewis, Dave Shade, Jack Delaney, Paul Berlanbach, Jock Malone, Lou Bogash and Bryan Downey.

At the age of 71 Ratner was interviewed in the August 1967 issue of Boxing Illustrated magazine. He told the interviewer that Ted Kid Lewis and Harry Greb were the best fighters he ever faced. “Both were great”, said Ratner. “Lewis could box and he could hit. Greb was not as other men; he started his fights at a fast pace and accelerated it as the fight went on.”

But of all his opponents Ratner considered Mike Gibbons the best boxer he ever fought. “Gibbons was a wonderful boxer,” he said. “Maybe the very best I ever saw. He employed a peculiar footwork—none of the fancy-dan steps some of the moderns use, but a gliding maneuver that proved amazingly effective and energy-conserving. He knew every defensive move in the book, but he was by no means all defense. When he went on the attack, the punches came thick and fast, hard and true. He was a marvel.”[1]

Only one film of Gibbons in action is known to exist—his 1915 10 round no-decision bout with the great Packey McFarland. Sadly the film is not available on YouTube. (Maybe our indefatigable editor can come up with it). But recently I came across another YouTube of Gibbons giving boxing instruction to American soldiers in training during World War I. It is quite impressive and a revelation to those who think boxing back then was crude and unsophisticated. Gibbons is shown demonstrating various punches (including stepping in with “the old one-two”), and also blocking, slipping and countering techniques. These are fundamental moves but rarely seen in today’s world of “I hit you, now you hit me” school of crude and unsophisticated boxing. The rest of the film–Gibbons is only featured in the first few minutes–is just as interesting, as it shows Uncle Sam’s Doughboys getting judo instruction and lessons in bayonet fighting. It is a rare glimpse back in time and well worth the ten minutes it takes to view it.

Note: Boxing historian Mike Silver is the author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” (McFarland Publishing Co.)

[1] Harry Cleavelin, “Augie Ratner: Champ Without A Crown!”, Boxing Illustrated (February 1967), p. 38-40.

Talking with Joe Cross About Not Being Fat, Sick, And Nearly Dead

“People are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

In 2010 the movie “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” was released. It was directed by Joe Cross and chronicled his journey from a 310 lb man suffering from a rare autoimmune disease and taking a handful of medications everyday to a 210 lb picture of health.Joe Cross Reboot He did this by drinking only vegetable juice, what he calls a Reboot, while spending 60 days driving across the United States. The movie was a great hit and is still very popular. Joe, 47 years old and a native of Sydney, Australia is back on the road, this time with a book, “The Reboot With Joe Juice Diet”. I recently caught up with him by phone while he was traveling to Albany, NY for an appearance.

Speaking with Joe, you immediately feel his optimism and positive attitude. His Australian accent is infectious, and his story of how he took control of his health is truly inspiring. He plans traveling the world in an effort to lead by example in showing people how they too can change their lives. He is quick to point out he is not a doctor or scientist, but a man who just wants people to see how he was able to improve his health by making some important lifestyle changes. He is spreading the word about how we all have the power to do the same thing.

I began our conversation by telling Joe how most of the books and movies I have read and watched about changing to a healthy lifestyle when it comes to food tend to be preachy and not at all flexible. Many interject a strong political bias as well. His approach is different. He tells me “I think, predominately, that people are pretty smart and crowds are dumb. We tend to do things as a group, but I think trying to reach people as a crowd and then work that down to the individual doesn’t work very well. You already know fruits and vegetables are good for you, but when someone gets up and says you should do this and you should do that, the message gets lost. The preachy side is not the way we educate, not the way we inspire, and certainly not the way we entertain. Make it fun, make it interesting, and make it something that resonates within. Find the answers we all know and then present the questions in interesting, fun, and inspiring ways. Healthier is happier. I have a view that happiness is by default about being useful, but unless you have your health you can’t be fully useful.” He asks rhetorically, “ Who’s unhealthy and happy? Very few people.”

Joe Cross 2In the movie Joe drank only fresh vegetable juices for sixty days and then the viewers assume he was able to stop taking all of his medications. “ No, after the sixty days I continued with a very strict vegan diet for an additional ninety days. At that point I was pill free. I had done some research and found that for 70% of us our health problems are caused by lifestyle choices, the other 30% is from genetics. I wanted to give myself the chance to find out if I was causing my own disease or if I was one of the 30% for whom it is genetic. Was I in the bad luck crowd or the stupid crowd? I got my answer.” Should those who are unfortunate to be in the 30% crowd just give up? “No, they should still make the changes, and they will most likely find they will need less medication and will feel a lot better.”

Is Joe a vegetarian? “No, I can tell you what I don’t eat. I don’t drink soda or alcohol. No caffeine. I don’t eat fast food. I will eat a hamburger but only in if it is good and from a reliable source. I do not push a plant only diet. I talk about plant based. There are three things available for us to eat: plants, processed food, and animal food. If you can make the plants the base, 40 to 50%, and then split the others up at 20 to 30% you will be doing well. I know when I do eat plant-only I feel better, but I am not ready for that now.”

Joe talked about how are bodies are programmed to go into famine mode, a survival mechanism from a time when we would live through feasts and famines. After all, fat is stored energy. “A lot of people wake up in the morning and are not happy with what they see in the mirror, not a good way to start the day. Don’t look at it as a negative, just think about how your body is protecting you and storing up a lot of energy in case a famine is coming. I would advise before doing a Reboot checking the Internet to make sure there is not a food shortage happening in Boston anytime soon. As long as the coast is clear, maybe it’s time to bring on your own nutritional famine.”

There are many who believe government should step in and play a role in what we should be allowed to eat. Joe leads by example and believes “healthy is happy”. “I don’t want to become a nanny state. I am all about market forces, and my role is writing books, making movies, and doing TV shows. I want to educate people, entertain people, and inspire people to make healthier choices that can affect their happiness and existence. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. The more we demand it the more the tsunami of change will happen.” I mentioned how I am seeing more and more healthier alternatives on menus. “People are voting with their dollars, and when you vote with your dollars in America s..t happens. Those businesses that don’t keep up with the changes will be left by the wayside.”

What’s next for Joe? “The book is number one in Canada and in the top 100 on Amazon. The tour is going global. The movie is now available in 15 languages. I have a new movie coming out in September and am working on a possible program to be aired on PBS. With a base of ten million viewers of my movie, the scientific community is now talking to me. I take their advice and regurgitate it in simpler ways so we can all understand it.’

Joe Cross is leading a revolution that is gaining tremendous momentum. He has boundless energy and the power to motivate and inspire. Watch his movie, read his book, listen to him talk, and you will be inspired to make the changes that will keep you from being Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Check him out at Rebootwithjoe.com

Bobby Franklin can be reached at bob [at] boxingoverbroadway [dot] com

Rest In Peace Jimmy Ellis

Rest In Peace Jimmy Ellis

Former WBA Heavyweight Champ Passes

Another Loss From The Era Of Competitive Boxing

The boxing world was saddened by the recent death of former WBA Heavyweight Champion Jimmy Ellis. Ellis passed after a long battle with dementia pugilistica. For years Jimmy was best known for being Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner, but it is unfair to remember him for that. Jimmy Ellis was a superb boxer puncher who rose through the ranks beginning his professional career as a middleweight.

Jimmy Ellis fought in what was probably the most competitive era in heavyweight boxing.

Ellis and Ali were both from Louisville, Kentucky and began as boxing as amateurs under the tutelage of Officer Joe Martin. They fought twice before turning pro with the young Clay winning their first encounter, and Jimmy taking the decision in the rematch.

Ellis turned pro under the management of Bud Bruner with whom he compiled a record of 15-5 with 6 knockouts. Jimmy’s losses were to Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, George Benton, Henry Hank, Don Fullmer, and Holly Mims, whom he defeated in a rematch. All of these opponents were top rated contenders, and many of the losses were by very close decision.

Jimmy left Bruner and began training with his old friend Ali under the tutelage of Angelo Dundee. He also put on weight moving up to light heavyweight and then heavyweight. Ellis scored a spectacular one round knock out of Jimmy Persol in 1967. This win catapulted him onto the world stage and earned him a berth in the WBA Heavyweight Tournament to find a successor to Ali who had been wrongfully stripped of his title for refusing to be inducted into the Army.

Ellis was considered a long shot to win the title, but he surprised everyone by stopping Leotis Martin, winning a decision over Oscar Bonavena in a fight where he dropped the tough Argentinean twice, and then defeating Jerry Quarry over fifteen rounds to win the title in 1968. Later that year he would successfully defend his crown against Floyd Patterson.

In the meantime, Joe Frazier, who had chosen not to enter the WBA tournament, defeated Buster Mathis in a fight recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission as being for the World Championship. It was just a matter of time before the two would meet to unify the title.

On February 2, 1970 Frazier and Ellis stepped into the ring at Madison Square Garden to decide who the better fighter was. Ellis was coming off a layoff of a year and a half, while Frazier had remained active and was at the peak of his ability. Jimmy put on a valiant effort landing a number of strong right hands on Joe, but Frazier was unstoppable that night. After decking Ellis twice in the fourth round, Angelo Dundee stopped the fight before the bell rang for round five.

Ellis would never again challenge for the title, but he did fight his old friend Muhammad Ali in a twelve round bout in 1971, with Ali stopping him in the final round.

Jimmy Ellis fought in what was probably the most competitive era in heavyweight boxing. There were many exciting bouts at that time with so many of the contestants being evenly matched. Also, the top fighters did not duck each other. When the public clamored for a unification bout between Ellis and Frazier, both men agreed to fight. What a contrast to today when fight fans have been waiting years for Mayweather and Pacquiao. In the 70s just about every top fighter met at some point. Ron Lyle, Jerry Quarry, George Chuvalo, Earnie Shavers, Jimmy Young, and many others were in the mix. Many, if not most of the matches then were highly competitive as the fighters were evenly matched. Before these fights, fans would argue for hours over who would win, and no one could be sure. It was a very exciting time for boxing.

Jimmy Ellis was not a big heavyweight, but his years working his way up from middleweight to heavyweight were a time when he learned his craft.

Jimmy Ellis was not a big heavyweight, but his years working his way up from middleweight to heavyweight were a time when he learned his craft. Even though he had a number of losses, he was learning his trade, and he learned it well. He had a tremendous right hand, which he combined with great footwork and speed. This combination allowed him to defeat much stronger fighters such as George Chuvalo and Oscar Bonavena while also outspeeding Floyd Patterson, and outsmarting slick counter punching Jerry Quarry.

Jimmy’s career came to an end in 1975 after he was poked in the eye during a sparring session. The accident caused him to lose the sight in that eye. His career was now over, but unfortunately, it was too late. The years in the ring both in matches and the thousands of rounds of sparring in the gym had already taken their toll. For a number of years before his death he suffered the effects of dementia pugilistica, an Alzheimer’s type of disease that is the result of repeated blows to the head. Jimmy’s former rivals Jerry Quarry and Floyd Patterson suffered the same fate.

 

For years Jimmy Ellis lived under the shadow of having been Ali’s sparring partner, but make no mistake about it; Jimmy was a world class boxer puncher who fought and beat many of the top contenders of his day, and that was quite a day. Ellis was also a deeply religious man who sang Gospel along with his wife Mary Etta, who passed away in 2006.

Jimmy Ellis was a gentleman who never spoke a bad word about anyone.

Jimmy Ellis was a gentleman who never spoke a bad word about anyone. He never gave less then one hundred percent when he stepped into the ring. He always carried himself with dignity, and was a true Champion in the ring and out. He will be missed. Rest In Peace Champ.

 

Tinker Pincot

Rest In Peace

 

Former light heavy weight contender and long time Ring 4 member Jordan Tinker Picot passed away recently. Tinker was one of the hardest punching fighters to come out of the New England area with a pro record of 17-3-1 with all of his wins coming via knock out. At Ring 4 events Tinker was always one to elicit laughter and he will be missed by all of us.

Rest in Peace Brother.

Ken Fallin

Ken Fallin:

Doodling The Stars From The Broadway Stage

To The World Stage

Ken Fallin
Ken Fallin

You have most likely seen Ken Fallin’s work as it appears with “alarming regularity” in the Wall Street Journal, Playbill Online, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker and on the posters for Forbidden Broadway. He also got his start here in Boston doing a weekly drawing for the Sunday Arts section of the Herald back in the 80s. You may not know his name because he prefers to not allow it to intrude into his pieces.

Woody Allen
Woody Allen

Ken has always loved cartoons, and has been drawing, or what he calls doodling, since he was a kid. His dream was to be an actor and he pursued that career for many years, but found he made more money drawing caricatures of his fellow actors on the side. Eventually, he got his big break, not in acting, but when he was asked to do the drawings for the poster for “Forbidden Broadway” in 1983. This led to the job at the Boston Herald, followed by working for Wall Street Journal, where he still contributes work every week. I recently spoke with Ken by phone from his home and studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The first thing you notice when speaking to Ken is that there is a calmness to his voice. He comes across as a man who loves people and enjoys his work. I ask him about how he calls his work doodling and not his art.

“I try not to take myself too seriously.” Did you doodle when you were a kid?

Aladdin
Aladdin


“I did, I did, but it was something that was just a lot of fun. I loved cartoons. I loved comic strips in the newspapers. I loved watching cartoons on television, and I loved Mad Magazine. Warner Brothers made a lot cartoons with caricatures of their famous players like Humphrey Bogart, and that just blew my mind that they were taking real people and making them into cartoons. That’s how I saw it…it was just the best, because when I would look at people, especially funny looking people, I would think this person looks like a cartoon. That’s where I think I got my love of caricatures.”

 

Max Schmeling
Max Schmeling

Were you taught drawing?“It wasn’t taught. It’s kind of an instinctual thing. You see somebody and the way you see them is your own vision of them, and I don’t think you can teach that. It’s the way you see the person.”Ken has doodled just about every major Broadway performer in the past thirty-five years as well as world leaders including President Obama for the Wall Street Journal. I was curious what it was like to sit with these famous people and sketch them. I was in for a surprise.

 

“I don’t get to meet them. It’s not a glamorous life like a photographer where you actually get to go and see the person. I work from photographs. Photos are sent to me via the Internet. Sometimes I get an assignment at 11:00 A.M. that has to be done by 4:00 P.M., I can work fairly fast.”

Ian McKellen as Richard III
Ian McKellen as Richard III

A lot of the time Ken does not know anything about the person he is drawing,

“I usually try to pull probably a dozen photos, and if something catches my eye I think, I can draw that, I can draw that angle, the eye, or the nose, or whatever; and I try to do that, and sometimes it doesn’t work and I have to switch over to another photo.

 

Commissioner William Bratton
Commissioner William Bratton

Ken has been heavily influenced by the work of Al Hirschfeld. I ask if he had ever met the great artist,

 

“I have. Well, this is funny because years ago I actually got my big break doing a show called “Forbidden Broadway”, and Al used to go to all the opening nights. He went to one in New York and they showed him the program cover that had my drawing on it and said, ‘what do you think of it?, and he thought he had done it. I took that as the ultimate compliment. He was a very nice man. I never got to know him really well. After he died I got to know his wife and I got to go up to his studio. I actually got to sit in his chair. That was

Rocky The Musical
Rocky The Musical

very exciting. Louise Hirschfeld and the people at the Al Hirschfeld Foundation have been very supportive of my work. They can see I am influenced by, but not copying him.”

 

Other artists, photographers, and architects, have influenced Ken including Aubrey Beardsley, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn. I read a quote from Irving Penn to him. “Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show to the world…very often what lies behind the façade is rare and more wonderful then the subject knows or dares to believe.” I was curious if this would apply to Ken’s art.

Madmen
Madmen

“Usually, when I am drawing, my mind is pretty blank because I need it to be that way in order to create something. It’s probably subconscious with an artist. Anytime you do anything creative you’re not really aware of it at the time, but things come through when you love it, and I really love what I do. I am an old fashioned illustrator. I use a quill pen that I have to keep dipping in ink, and scratching on illustration board. I love the old fashioned stuff, and I’m hoping that comes through, and when people buy my stuff and they tell me they love looking at them that means the world to me.”

Billy Joel
Billy Joel

With his upbeat yet easy going manner, Ken hardly seems to be a suffering artist. I mention that I don’t see him pulling a VanGogh and cutting an ear off. “I sometimes clip a fingernail, but that is as far as I go.”

I find it amazing he is able to draw such meaningful doodles without having met his subjects. It is as if Ken has a sixth sense.

 

“I’ve had relatives of people I’ve drawn tell me you captured something there, and I’m like I did this from a photograph. I guess it was subconscious, but that is such a compliment.”

 

Rocky
Rocky

Ken got his start with the Wall Street Journal in 1994. “I had an agent and she got me my first WSJ job, and they hired me to draw sports figures. I did every sport. I even did the Winter Olympics that year.” I ask if he got to go, “Oh no, it’s all photographs. You’re trying to make my life much too glamorous. I’m not a sports person and I know very little about it, but I would look at photographs and just hope they wouldn’t come out looking like chorus boys or something. And it worked cause they had me doing that for almost four years.”

 

I bring up the subject of drawing political figures without having his own views, either positive or negative, come across.

“I have to be real careful if it’s somebody I know and that I don’t like, and they don’t want my drawings to be editorial. They just want me to show the person. It can be frustrating, but then I think of the paycheck and I push forward.”

Bullets Over Broadway
Bullets Over Broadway

Caricature can be a bit of a minefield particularly when drawing different ethnic groups. Because so many of the early illustrators had a field day making hateful statements with their disgraceful pieces. Ken is comfortable with any subject he doodles.

Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

“I grew up around a lot of prejudice, but I never understood that, it didn’t make sense to me to be prejudiced. I just didn’t understand why people didn’t like other people. It usually is from ignorance and fear of the unknown. With caricatures, it’s interesting we are talking about this, when I got my first assignments to draw black people my editors would sometimes be very nervous, but I would say, ‘You shouldn’t be nervous’, and this is true, I’ve drawn blacks, I’ve drawn Asians, you know, all types, and I approach all of them the same way, and I think it shows in that. It’s not like I’m trying to make fun of any particular person, it’s just the way I see them without being cruel, I never try to be cruel. I’ve never had a problem.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Death of a Salesman
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Death of a Salesman

I ask Ken how old he is, and as he tells me he is 65 he reflects a bit on his very interesting journey.

 

“When I turned 50 my life was actually better. I got started in my late 30s that is when I got my first big break. Things have just gotten better. The really great thing is I don’t think I peaked too young, and I’m not jaded. It’s like things are happening. I’m hearing from all these people I went to high school with and they are so happy to be retiring, and I’m thinking I love what I do, I would never retire unless somebody stopped paying me.”

 

Fallin talks about his time in 1975 at the New School in New York and studying under famed cartoonist Mort Gerberg.

Joel Grey Caberet
Joel Grey Caberet

“I wanted to be a cartoonist for a brief period. Mort knew all these cartoonists at the New Yorker, and every week he would bring one in to talk to us, and we had people like George Booth and Charles Addams, and they were wonderful. And for our assignment every week we had to send a batch of cartoons to the New Yorker, and we had to bring in our rejection slip to show proof that we did it.”

 

Ken had spent a number of years after school as a starving actor as he kept pursuing his dream. What went on during those “lost years” from school until your big break in 1985?

 

“I did everything you can imagine. I’ve had just about every job. I’ve never worked in a hospital, but I’ve done just about everything else. I’ve been a waiter and a cab driver (Ken drove for Red Cab in Brookline, MA). I was drawing and acting, that was my original goal and the reason I came to New York. I got a job in 1979 working in a summer stock company in Connecticut, and I was making more money doing their posters for the shows and doing caricatures for the actors. You know, they’d pay me like five bucks for a drawing of them, and since I was only making like $45.00 a week as an actor, this came in very handy. I still thought of myself as becoming an actor but it got to the point I was making more money doing illustrations, these rinky-dink jobs, but they were coming in. What’s ironic is now a days I have meetings with Broadway producers and directors and writers about my art, but I’m always thinking, gosh, why didn’t I know these people when I wanted to be an actor. But it all worked out, I have no complaints.

Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett

“It wasn’t until my late thirties when I got my big break. It got to the point where I didn’t think anything was ever going to happen, and I was very discouraged. But then things just started happening and it was great. I think you just sort of have to be ready. If you believe in your self, and I have to admit there were periods that I didn’t, but if you can just sort of hold on and have somebody else tell you they believe in you that helps too.

 

“I have to throw this in because everyone has a parent story. My father never understood what I did as an illustrator until I started working for the Wall Street Journal, and other people would say ‘look at what Ken’s drawing here.’ And he started taking pride in it, but he could not believe people would pay you to draw. He was a salesman. If I was selling drawings that would be one thing, but he finally got it. Just before he died he told me he was proud of me, and that made it all right, but for years he thought I was a bum.”

 

What else would he like people to know about him?

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“You can say I am very kind to animals. I do dog rescue, that’s my big, big thing. I help rescue dogs out of the shelters here in New York. Our main goal is to get them out of the kill shelters cause we have very bad shelters here in New York. We try to get them either into foster homes or into a shelter that doesn’t kill. I like drawing dogs too. I don’t get to do that much in my pay work. I think they are such characters.”

 

After my conversation with this very warm and talented man I feel it is never too late to pursue your dream. It wasn’t easy for Ken, but he persisted and we are all the better for having him sharing his art with us. I hope you will now feel you know the man behind those wonderful doodles you see in so many publications.

 

Originals and prints of all Ken’s work are for sale including his work for the Wall Street Journal. The day we spoke he had earlier been on the phone with Patrick Stewart who was buying a copy of the wonderful piece Ken did for Playbill of “Waiting For Godot” starring Stewart and Ian McKellan.

 

You can contact Ken through his website at kenfallinartist.com

 

Holman Williams and Marcel Cerdan, The Boston Strong Boy, And Boxing At Boston City Hall Plaza

Williams-Cerdan-RooftopThe photo of Holman Williams and Marcel Cerdan which accompanies this article, having a conversation on a Paris rooftop has always fascinated me. I first saw it in the International Boxing Research Organization Journal, and Dan Cuoco, the director of that fine organization shared it with me. On July 7, 1946 Williams and Cerdan fought each other in Paris with Cerdan winning a decision over the American. Holman Williams was one of a group of boxers that came to be known as The Black Murderers’ Row. Others in this elite crowd were Charley Burley, Cocoa Kid, Eddie Booker, Bert Lytell, Loyd Marshall, Jack Chase, and Aaron “Tiger” Wade. All were great fighters who never got a shot at the title partly because of race, and partly because they were just too good. Author Harry Otty has written a fine book chronicling the careers of these boxers who deserve to be recognized by all boxing fans. His book, “Charley Burley and The Black Murderers Row’’, is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the sport.

In this photo, we see Williams who is at this point on the downside of his career, speaking with Cerdan who would two years later win the Middleweight Title from Tony Zale. I don’t know if this was taken before or after the bout, but it is interesting to see how intently they are listening and speaking to each other. This is not a photo of two wise mouth punks talking trash to each other, but of two professionals, of two gentlemen spending some time together. Are they talking about their fight? About boxing in general and the techniques they use? Perhaps they are having a conversation about the cultural scene in Paris. What I find striking is how relaxed they are with each other. These are two great fighters who would, or have already, put on a very tough fight; yet they are completely at ease in each other’s company. In this photo, both men convey class and dignity. The backdrop of Paris further enhances them. Both are impeccably dressed and could easily pass for a couple of writers or actors. It is a snapshot of a very different and interesting time. Take a moment to study this picture and let your mind wander to just what their conversation was about that July afternoon on a rooftop in Paris.

Strong Boy, The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan
America’s First Sports Hero
By Christopher Klein Published by Lyons Press

John-L-SullivanJohn L. Sullivan was America’s first larger then life sports star, and author Christopher Klein has written a fine account of the Boston Strong Boy. Sullivan, the son of Irish immigrants who had arrived in Boston during the great wave of Irish migration in the mid nineteenth century, was born in Boston’s South End, not Roxbury as many have believed. He made a reputation for himself at an early age with his amazing strength, intimidating stare, and powerful right hand punch.

Klein’s book follows Sullivan’s life in detail and shows just how the Great John L was the right man at the right time to win the adoration of fans nationwide. His fistic talent along with his magnetic personality and booming voice made him an instant celebrity. But, he never would have attained the prominence he did had it not been for the completion of the intercontinental railroad system. This feat of technology, comparable with the internet today, allowed Sullivan to crisscross the country putting on exhibitions and taking on all comers in four round matches. For the first time, Americans were able to see one of their heroes up close, sometimes too close, because Sullivan’s proclivity to drink would make him a very difficult character to control.

I learned much about John L from Klein’s book. Many things I didn’t know, such as the fact that after Gentleman Jim Corbett defeated Sullivan for the crown, the men would later engage in at least two exhibition matches. That Sullivan was a somewhat talented actor who loved performing on the stage, and that he was the first athlete to earn over a million dollars, most of which went to living the high life. The only fault I find in this book is that often times I found myself wanting more details about some of the events, such as the time in Augusta Georgia where Sullivan, who had been drinking heavily grew so verbally abusive that a train hand knocked him out. Surely, this was a big deal, and I would love to have had more details about that incident. I found this book a very interesting read and highly recommend it.

Boxing At City Hall Plaza
June 29th

This Sunday a live boxing show will take place out doors at City Hall Plaza in Boston. It is the Neighborhood Youth challenge and will feature a team of young amateurs from the local gyms going up against a team of boxers from Connemara, Ireland. Outdoor boxing in Boston is a bit of a throwback to the days of the Great John L and should be a lot of fun. I hope to see you there.

Reading The Gods Of War – Shadow Boxing With Golovkin

Review: The Gods Of War

Springs ToledoSprings Toledo is well known in boxing circles as a very good writer who also knows his boxing. Whether writing about Harry Greb or one of the current champions, his style is a throwback to the days when boxing writers knew the craft of writing as well as the sport. You do not have to be a boxing fan nor do you need a knowledge of the Sweet Science to enjoy his work. However, if you do know your boxing history Springs will make you think more deeply about it.

In his book The Gods Of War, Toledo has compiled a collection of his essays in the first section and then takes us on a run through his selection of the ten best fighters of the modern era (fighters who hit their prime after 1920) he calls this select group The Gods of War.

Gods of WarReading the essays in the first section you will hear echoes, not imitations, of A.J. Leibling and Raymond Chandler. Springs is not attempting to set the clock back with his style of writing, but rather he understands that boxing is the perfect subject for interesting and creative writing. I think of the term coined by Gay Talese, creative non-fiction, when reading these pieces as they all have a certain sense of drama to them that deserves to be explored.

I was pleased to see four essays on Sonny Liston, a fighter much too little has been written about. Springs absolutely nails it when he discusses the Ali Liston fight that was called off in Boston. If that fight had taken place history may have been very different. Much of what is revealed here I know to be true.

He talks about Alexis Arguello and the suffering this very decent man lived with all his life, a life that ended tragically and too soon, but one that is not uncommon in boxing. Boxing has a way of focusing our attention on the unfairness and cruelties of life, and Toledo uses his pen to paint a picture of this reality.

In the section entitled The Gods of War, Springs has developed a criteria for rating the greatest fighters. These greatest of all time lists are always controversial and guaranteed to raise the hackles of boxing fans, but in this case the author has used a very interesting and solid system for rating his picks. Will you agree with his choices? Probably not. But that is part of the fun. What will happen is you will be forced to think more deeply about your own picks. This is not just a list, but a series of short pieces that give the reader insight into each of the Gods of War. I feel I am pretty knowledgeable about the sport having spent a lifetime around it, but I learned much by reading these essays. For instance, I had not known about the connection between the Bob Fitzsimmons Shift and Roberto Duran. I would advise not jumping to the end to see the pick for the top spot, but rather read and savor each bio has you work your way to the end. There are surprises, but Springs backs up each of his choices with his terrific writing and deep insight.

There are many books on boxing being published today. Some very good, some that are labors of love that just don’t measure up, and some that would have been better off remaining as trees. The Gods of War is one that deserves to be read by everyone with an interest in boxing, an appreciation of good writing, and those with an a desire to know more about the human condition. I know it will remain in my library for many years to come.

Shadow Boxing With Golovkin

Gennady GolvkinA couple of weeks ago I watched the Gennady Golovkin Daniel Geale bout on television. I saw something before the bout when the cameras were in Golovkin’s dressing room, something you rarely if ever see today, Gennady was shadow boxing. This used to be common practice as fighters warmed up for their bouts, loosening up and getting ready to do battle. Today, they are usually spending their time warming up while robotically playing patty cake on the mitts with a trainer or having batons swung at them. Golovkin actually moves around the room getting loose and is practicing the movements he will be using in the ring. His mind is engaged. He is not just going through drills and repeating the same moves over and over again. He is visualizing his opponent in front of him, imagining what he will be facing in the ring. He is getting his body ready while engaging his mind.

Golovkin is a very good fighter. He showed that when he rolled with a right hand while delivering his own knockout punch in the Geale fight. He has power, is in great shape all the time, and knows how to think in there. He knows how to slip punches and create angles. He has been well taught and is learning his craft. He is also a class act, behaving as a gentleman before and after a bout. There is no cheap talk or language you wouldn’t want you kids to hear. He carries himself well and sets a very good example.

Golovkin GealeI do see problems for him though. I think he can dominate the division, but I doubt we will ever see him reach his full potential. We may even see him regress a bit. This is because he does not have the level of competition to force him to improve. At this stage in his career he should still be forced to learn in each fight he has. He is a very focused and intellectual boxer, but he does not have the peers to pressure him to go beyond where he is now. I saw some signs that he was getting just a bit sloppy in the Geale match. This is not to take anything away from him, it just shows that he is so good he does not have to pay for his mistakes. I doubt his camp is even able to find good sparring for him. In an earlier age they would have had solid journeyman sparring partners for a fighter like Gennady. Guys that would make him work in there, forcing him to hone his skills and continue to learn new moves. I hope he continues to improve so we get to see if he is able to develop into a great fighter, but I fear that instead of improving, he may be brought down by the caliber of fighters he is facing in today’s game. He is very smart. He is very talented. I want him to prove me wrong.

Bobby can be reached at bob2boxer [at] yahoo [dot] com

Master Boxer Speaks! My Interview with Curtis Cokes

By

Mike Silver

Curtis Cokes held the welterweight title from 1966 to 1969. He was born and raised in Dallas,Texas, where he still resides. Curtis was a gifted all-around athlete in high school, excelling in baseball and basketball. He earned all-state honors in both sports and briefly played basketball for the Harlem Stars, a professional touring team.

Curtis Cokes - Boxing over Broadway
Welterweight champion Curtis Cokes.

Curtis first laced on the gloves at a local YMCA and was undefeated in 22 amateur bouts before turning pro in 1958. This was at a time when there were eight weight divisions and eight undisputed champions. (How quaint!) By the mid-1960s Curtis had become a top rated welterweight contender. Like all of his contemporaries he acquired contender status the old fashioned way—he earned it. (Also quaint by today’s standards). During his climb to the title he sharpened his considerable boxing skills against the likes of Stefan Redl, Joe Miceli, Kenny Lane, Manny Alvarez, Jose Stable, Stan Harrington, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, Billy Collins and in three memorable bouts with the great Luis Rodriguez.

The boxing world first took notice of Curtis Cokes when he upset future welterweight champion Luis Rodriguez in 1961. Rodriguez outpointed Curtis in their rematch four months later. The rubber match took place on July 6, 1966 in New Orleans. The bout was the semi-final of a tournament to determine a new welterweight champion. Curtis stopped Rodriguez in the 15th round, thus becoming the only fighter to stop the great Cuban welterweight in his prime. Less than two months later, in the final bout of the tournament, Curtis outpointed Manny Gonzales to win the crown vacated by Emile Griffith.

Curtis Cokes had an elegant and refined boxing style of a type that is all but extinct today. He was adept at both offense and defense but was primarily a counter-puncher— skills that were admired and appreciated by knowledgeable boxing fans. (Films of several of his fights are available on YouTube). After five successful defenses, including impressive KOs over Charlie Shipes and Willie Ludick, he lost the title to the great Jose Napoles on April 4th 1969. With both eyes nearly swollen shut Cokes’ manager told the referee to stop the fight before the start of the 13th round. The rematch, two months later, ended similarly with Cokes unable to continue beyond the 10th round. Curtis fought for three more years before hanging up his gloves. He compiled a 62-14-4 record, including 30 knockouts. Napoles and Hayward were the only fighters to stop him. In 1972 Curtis gave a credible acting performance in “Fat City”, a boxing movie directed by John Huston.

After he retired from boxing Curtis was involved in various business ventures but he always remained close to the sport he loved. In 1980 he wrote, with co-author Hugh Kayser, The Complete Book of Boxing for Fighters and Fight Fans. I consider it the best boxing instruction book of the past 70 years. The book has reportedly sold more than 77,000 copies. He currently owns and operates Curtis Cokes’ Home of Champions Boxing Gym in Dallas where the emphasis is on serving his community through an amateur boxing program geared to keeping young people off the streets.

Today, at the age of 76, Curtis Cokes is healthy and mentally sharp, with an amazing memory for the details of his career. Fortunately, he exhibits no ill effects from his 80 professional bouts—a testament to his superb defensive skills, physical conditioning and knowing when to hang up his gloves. Aside from being an old school fighter Curtis is also an old school gentleman. He is gracious, engaging and warm. Interviewing this Hall of Fame boxer was a delightful experience.

My thanks to mutual friend Ken Burke for providing contact information for Curtis.

INTERVIEW:

Mike Silver: Champ, the purists loved your smooth delivery and emphasis on basic fundamentals such as the left jab, footwork, counter punching and defense. I count myself lucky to have seen you fight on television. When I told a few older fans (who also saw you fight) that I was going to interview you their first words were, “He was a good boxer”. That is how you are remembered—that and your tremendous victories over the great Luis Rodriguez. How do you go about conveying your storehouse of knowledge to the young students at your gym?

Curtis Cokes: Before we start teaching fundamentals that involve throwing and blocking punches, or how to get away from punches, I get their legs in shape. We work on walking and running forward and backward. Footwork is such an important part of the sport. When I played baseball and basketball I knew I had to get my legs in shape because the legs are what carry the body. I think today’s fighters forget about footwork. I worked every day on my footwork, turning left and right, backing up, going forward. I turned to my left to be outside of my opponent’s right hand, and then I’d swing to my right to be outside of his left jab. Learning how to box is a slow process but you try to learn something every day.

MS: Speaking of footwork, in my book, The Arc of Boxing, I asked the great ballet dancer Edwin Villella, who was a champion amateur boxer before he became a ballet star, to explain the similarities between the two disciplines. You cover the same topic in The Complete Book of Boxing. Quoting from your book: “The balance and rhythm of a dancer are also important, for a boxer must be able to move quickly and change his tempo and direction at will…maneuverability is of extreme importance. An almost ballet type of body coordination gives a fighter a distinct edge.”

CC: The balance of a dancer is tremendous, and like a dancer a boxer has to be able to move and dance while maintaining his balance. You have to be able to have good balance to throw your punches. When I played with the Harlem Stars basketball team I used to watch Goose Tatum, how he would get in position and block people out. It was amazing to see him do that so smoothly. Goose Tatum’s coordination and balance was outstanding.

MS: Aside from footwork, what do you see as the main difference between the boxers of your generation and today’s practitioners?

CC: Today it’s all about hitting and that’s all it is…just go out and hit, hit, hit. They don’t learn the fundamentals of boxing. They don’t get a Ph.D. in boxing—how to block, roll, duck, slip and get away from punches– to hit and not get hit. You have to learn the smart part of boxing, because you want to come out of it the same as you went in. Most guys just fight, fight, fight, but “fighting” isn’t “boxing”. It’s an intelligent sport and you have to be smart to be able to succeed in it. If you just go toe to toe it becomes a toughman contest and the toughman wins. It’s not a science anymore. You don’t have to be smart to box anymore. There is no sport called “fighting”, it’s called professional boxing. A big part of the problem is we don’t have the trainers that we used to have. There are not too many people that know how to train fighters.

MS: Who was your trainer?

CC: I had two trainers: Robert Thomas was my first coach and Robert “Cornbread” Smith was the coach with all the experience. He was back in Joe Louis’s day and he was a good trainer. My manager was Doug Lord. Doug was a good manager and he took care of me. He was not only my manager, he was my friend. I knew the boxing game and Doug, who owned an insurance company, knew about business.

MS: You became welterweight champion in your 53rd professional fight. Two months ago a fighter with only 19 pro fights won a welterweight title belt. The fighter he dethroned had all of 24 pro bouts.

CC: I don’t think there are as many fighters available as in my day. Most become champions before they are ready to be champions. To be a champion you’ve got to have fought some of the best fighters in the world. Even if you lose to some of the great guys it’s not a shame to lose to a great fighter. You can learn from the experience. You have to take it step by step. You go from first grade to the tenth grade and then you graduate. Instead of learning the game they want to fight for a title too early even before they learn to tie their gloves on. You’ve got 10 fights and you’re fighting for a title. Back in the day you had to have at least 30 or 40 fights to get the experience before you challenged for a title. Baseball players don’t go to the major leagues until they prove themselves in the minor leagues, then they go to the major leagues. It’s a step by step process. Just because you can hit a guy and knock him out doesn’t mean you can get up there and fight.

MS: As a young boxer did you have any role models that you wanted to imitate?

CC: I learned from two of the best—Joe Brown and Sugar Ray Robinson. I watched those guys when they were fighting. I tried to copy their style. I tried to copy Ray’s style but I worked with Joe Brown. I trained with him when I was a kid and he was lightweight champion of the world. I went to Houston and sparred with him and he told me that I was going to be a champion. Brown would show me how he would throw punches and miss them on purpose to make a guy move his head in the range of his right hand. And I started doing it—I would purposely miss a jab on the outside so my opponent would move his head to the inside where he was in my right hand range. I was a good right hand puncher. I don’t see anybody doing that today. I saw “Kitten” Hayward do it. So did Luis Rodriguez. Emile Griffith did some of that. Those fighters, they were smarter than these guys today who just go out there and hit.

MS: Did anyone else influence your style of boxing?

CC: I sparred with (former middleweight champion) Carl “Bobo” Olson in Honolulu, Hawaii when I went over there to box one time. (Note: Cokes outpointed Stan Harrington on May 21, 1963 in Honolulu). They all told me I was going to be champion of the world one day and they helped me quite a bit. I got Olson’s jab and I got Joe Brown’s movement and his right hand, and I picked up all this stuff from these guys. You have to learn how to box and you have to learn it well. You go to school to learn your ABC’s and you have to learn boxing the same way.

MS: Were feints part of your repertoire?

CC: Oh yes! One of my favorite feints was a silent right hand. I would feint the jab and throw the right hand. My trainer called it a silent right hand because you didn’t know I was going to throw it. You thought I was going to throw the jab, but I’d feint the jab and throw the right hand. Sometimes I would throw a double right hand.

MS: What about body punches?

CC: When I wanted to get your hands down I’d go to the body. I’d hook to the body and hook to the head, or throw a right hand to the body and a right hand to the head. But I wasn’t a vicious body puncher. I went to the head mostly. I was a counter puncher and I would hit guys when they weren’t ready to be hit. I was always in good shape and I could move and take a fairly good punch.

MS: Did you have a favorite combination?

CC: I had a good right uppercut, left hook, right hand combination. I used it to good effect when I knocked out (Luis) Rodriguez. That was one of my favorite punches.

MS: You spoke of learning the finer points of boxing technique from role models early in your career. Two of today’s best fighters are Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, both of whom fight in your weight class. Would you consider them good role models for young boxers to emulate in terms of their boxing styles?

CC: No, I would not. It would be difficult to learn anything from them. Both are unorthodox boxers with natural styles that work for them. But what works for them would not work for most other boxers. It would be difficult to imitate. They don’t have anything that they can put on paper because they don’t know what they are going to do next. They don’t have a plan. They just go out there and fight and whatever comes to their mind happens automatically. You have to have a plan and you have to have a style. I had a style you could learn from because it was based on solid fundamentals. I threw the one-two-threes, and I threw them correctly. And if you throw punches correctly you will score. And if you do it correctly you will succeed in boxing. Pacquiao and Mayweather are doing something that nobody else can do and you don’t have any trainers today that can show people how to offset what they are doing. There are very few fighters today with the type of skills I would want my kids to watch and imitate. There are some guys I’m impressed with but they are mostly fighting—not boxing. Some of my guys would come to the gym excited after watching a fight on TV and say “did you see that?” I’d say don’t watch that particular fighter. I’d tell them to watch tapes of Ali or Sugar Ray Leonard and see how they use the jab and footwork—certain things that I wanted them to pick up on.

MS: Floyd Mayweather Jr. has done very well with his unorthodox style and extraordinary speed and reflexes. How would he have done if we time travel him back to the 1960s to face the best fighters of your era?

CC: I think he would have done pretty well, but he would have had way more trouble in my day than today because the fighters were much better. They were more knowledgeable. They had a Ph.D. in boxing. These guys today just go in there and fight off the top of their heads. They don’t have a plan and they don’t know what they are doing. They haven’t gone to school.

MS: Could fighters such as Emile Griffith, Luis Rodriguez, Jose Napoles, Carlos Ortiz and Curtis Cokes—all of whom were outstanding orthodox boxers— defeat Mayweather and Pacquaio.

CC: I definitely think that. Today’s champions would have a much harder time to get to a title because they would have to come through fighters of my ability and I think the top guys back in my day learned everything you could learn about boxing.

MS: How would you have fought Floyd? How would you cope with his tremendous speed?

CC: His speed is nothing I hadn’t seen before. You can throw punches and have speed but if there’s nothing there you will hit air. His speed won’t bother me. Luis Rodriguez had tremendous speed and I slowed him down. I would fight Floyd the same way I fought everybody else. I would work with my jab–make him move away from my jab. While worrying about getting away from my jab I would hit with my good right hand and left hook and I’d go home early.

MS: Your first victory over Luis Rodriguez in 1961 was considered quite an upset. At the time he had only one loss in 40 fights.

CC: Rodriguez beat everyone but he had a problem with me. Angelo Dundee (Rodriguez’s manager and trainer) didn’t want the fight. But Luis, to his credit, wanted to fight me. He wanted to fight the best. I don’t blame him. I wanted to fight the best also. In our first fight I outboxed and outmaneuvered him. He was throwing wide punches and I was throwing straight short punches so I got inside of him and beat him to the punch. That first fight in Dallas (August 1961) was easy. I had him down and won a decision. I had a style that bothered him. Angelo tried to change his style to fight me. He wanted him to be more of a puncher with me instead of being a boxer, like he was. But that only made it easier for me to cope with. I was always good at luring guys into my style of boxing, and that’s what good fighters do. You make the guy fight your fight. In our third fight, a month before I won the title, I stopped him in the 15th round. He got hit with a couple of shots and couldn’t come back. Luis had a good chin but I had a good right hand.

MS: You lost the welterweight title to the great Jose Napoles in 1969 and failed to regain the title two months later. What happened in those fights?

CC: Napoles was on his way up and I was on my way out. It was time for me to sit down because I’d been there for a while. In the second fight I broke his ribs. I went to his body real good but it was time for me to go. I’d had my day. I took a few fights I should not have taken. It was time for me to retire. In both of our fights his punches caused my eyes to become very swollen. I couldn’t see. (Cokes’ corner would not let him come out for the 13th round of their first fight). He damaged my right eye real bad.

MS: What would have happened if you had fought Napoles in your prime?

CC: If I fought Jose in my prime we would both have to retire after that fight (laughs).

MS: Luis Rodriguez and Jose Napoles were two of the greatest welterweight champions to ever wear the crown. You fought both of them. Who would have won had they met in their primes?

CC: I really don’t know. That would have been a good fight. Rodriguez didn’t hit as hard as Napoles, but he threw more punches.

MS: The other big superstar of today’s boxing scene is Manny Pacquiao. Would his unorthodox style have given you problems?

CC: He probably would, but if he ran into my good right hand then he would straighten up too. You know, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and that’s what I would do. I’d throw straight punches and he’d run into my good right hand and my jab. It would be a good fight because I’m not a wild swinger like he is. I throw punches straight and it would probably take me some time to hit him on the chin but when I did we could go home.

MS: Boxing has changed in many ways from the time when you were champion of the world. For example, many fighters have incorporated weightlifting into their training routines. What do you think of that trend?

CC: I used little hand weights of not more than two pounds. I would shadow box with them. I never used the big weights to make muscles. Just two pound weights. I would walk around the house with them. Big muscles slow you down. You don’t want your muscles to be tight and pumped up because you can’t use your arms if they’re pumped like that. Weightlifting is not for boxing. It’s for football players who need the muscles to tackle an opposing player or throw him down. You have to have smooth muscles like a basketball player if you are to throw your punches correctly. The heavy bag is an important tool for creating punching power, not lifting heavy weights.

MS: Speaking of strong punchers let’s discuss two of the best—Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran.

CC: Tommy Hearns was a good puncher but he didn’t have a real good chin. He needed to work on his defense more than he needed to work on his offense. He was easy to hit. I would have hit him. Duran had to come to you in order to score. He couldn’t stand on the outside and outbox anybody. I’m boxing. I could have beaten both Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran at welterweight.

MS: Let’s discuss some of your other opponents. Before you entered your prime fighting years you lost to Stanley “Kitten” Hayward and Jose Stable. Both fights were televised nationally.

CC: They said Kitten was a welterweight but when I fought him he looked more like a middleweight or small light heavy. He was the strongest boxer I ever fought. I could hit him all day long but he was so big and strong. He caught me with a good shot and had me down three times before they stopped the fight. But I had him down also. Jose Stable was a very good bob and weave pressure fighter. It was my first time fighting on national TV. I started strong but just didn’t fight enough during the last few rounds. Even so, it was a very close decision.

MS: The Hayward fight was a real barn burner and can be seen on YouTube. He does indeed look much bigger than you. In fact Don Dunphy, who was announcing the fight at ringside, comments about the disparity in size. The fight took place in Hayward’s home town of Philadelphia. Do you think there was some funny business with the scale?

CC: Well, it could have been. We were not allowed to weigh in at the same time. I complained about that because he got on the scale and was gone when I arrived. We never did get the chance to watch him get on the scale. I know good and well he was no 147 pounds. But I’m not using that as an excuse. It had nothing to do with him winning the fight because I had beaten big guys like that. He just caught me with a good shot that got me out of there.

MS: You knocked Hayward down with three solid punches just before the bell ended the second round. If you had caught him with those punches a minute earlier do you think the result might been different.

CC: It’s possible. I don’t know if he could have gotten up and recovered in time.

MS: What do you think of the current rule that has fighters weigh-in a day before the fight?

CC: I think it’s better to have a weigh-in on the day of the fight because you’d know for sure you have a 147 pounder against a 147 pounder. If you weigh-in the day before the fight you know you’re not going to get in that ring at 147—probably more like 157.

MS: In 1972 you had a significant role in “Fat City” a major Hollywood movie about boxing. How did that come about?

CC: John Huston, the director, knew about me as a boxer and asked me to audition for the part. It was hard work. You had to remember your lines. If somebody else remembered their lines and did it well and you missed yours they had to reshoot and the actors would get mad. I didn’t have to threaten any of them but they knew not to mess with me because I would shadow box while waiting for the next scene (laughs). It was a nice experience and I had a good time with Stacey Keach, Susan Tyrrell and Jeff Bridges. Those guys helped me quite a bit with my lines. They were tremendous with helping me. I got called for another part but I was in Paris with one of my fighters so I missed it. They wanted me to go to acting school but I was so busy doing my boxing thing with my guys.

MS: Do you have any regrets about your boxing career?

CC: Not at all. I did well in boxing. I started out wanting to be world champion and I accomplished that. I’m in the Hall of Fame. I retired from boxing because it was time for me to go. Nobody took advantage of me. Before I became a pro I attended college for two years. I had a good education. I knew how to take care of myself. I knew how to count my money too. I didn’t need a manager to count my money to me. I counted out my money to him.

Leonard Nimoy: The Vulcan With A Cauliflower Ear

Leonard Nimoy, who was born and raised in Boston’s West End, passed away recently. While Mr. Nimoy was never a boxer, and is best known for his role as Mr. Spock in the Star Trek TV series and movies, boxing did have a part in shaping his acting career.

I was never a big fan of Star Trek, but I have always found Leonard Nimoy to be a very fascinating man outside of the role he is famous for. He led a very interesting life and was active in many different art forms. Not only was he a TV and movie star, he also spent time on stage, was an accomplished photographer, poet, narrator, and even released a record album.

I recently viewed a 2014 documentary, “Leonard Nimoy’s Boston”, his son Adam made about him. Mr. Nimoy and Adam spend time reminiscing and walking through the areas of Boston where Leonard grew up. The stories are wonderful to listen to, (tales of selling newspapers, working for a vacuum cleaner dealer, and selling greeting cards), and it brings us back to a very different Boston then the one we know now, before urban renewal destroyed a vibrant neighborhood and displaced many poor but happy families.

The old West End was a lively neighborhood where many immigrants first settled when they came to this country. Leonard’s parents arrived here from Ukraine and were Jewish. There were many Jews in the area and also a huge population of Italians plus many other ethnic groups. The West End was a beautiful representation of the American Melting Pot.

The Nimoys lived at 87 Chambers Street, which has since been covered over by the Charles River Park luxury apartments. Three doors down from their building was a synagogue where the Nimoys would worship. The only remaining Jewish House of Worship from that period is the Vilna Shul on Phillips Street . A number of years ago Leonard Nimoy narrated a documentary about the Vilna Shul in an effort to raise money to restore and preserve it. Towards the end of the film the camera zooms in briefly on a golden pair of hands that appear to be giving the Vulcan sign of greeting. Mr. Nimoy in interviews has said that it was his memories of seeing this ancient symbol while worshipping that gave him idea for it in the Star Trek series. He remembered seeing worshipers using it while he was at the synagogue and thought it was a beautiful gesture, and seeing that Earthlings of all backgrounds make some gesture towards each other when first meeting, be it a handshake, bow, salute, or something else, he thought it would be fitting for Vulcans to have such a thing. I believe it was in a Boston synagogue that the young “Spock” first saw this, so I think Boston can take some credit for what has become a gesture of peace known throughout the galaxies.

Leonard got his first taste of acting at the Elizabeth Peabody Community Settlement House at 357 Charles St. While there he was spotted by a priest who was so impressed with his talent that he offered to fund 50% of a scholarship for him to attend a summer acting program at Boston College, and offer the young Nimoy jumped at. It would take years before he found success in the world of acting. While working to get by he tells the story of the time he was driving a cab in California when a young Jack Kennedy hailed him. They had a wonderful conversation in which they compared the commonalities in politics and acting. Kennedy told him that while there were many competing for leading rPosteroles in both professions, “There was always room for one more good one.”

So, where does boxing fit into all of this? Well, it turns out the first major film role Mr. Nimoy had was as a boxer in the movie “Kid Monk Baroni”. I watched the movie recently and it is pretty good. The future Mr. Spock plays the lead role of Monk Baroni, an angry young man with a disfigured face who finds an outlet for his anger in the boxing ring. It is appropriate that a priest leads him in this direction as that mirrors his journey to acting in his own life. The movie follows the usual boxing movie formula with the leading man finding success in the ring and love outside of it only to squander both but to be led back to a good and meaningful life by his friends who never lose faith in him. Jack Larson, who portrayed Jimmy Olsen in the Superman TV series, plays Monk’s best friend Angelo. LarsonBruce Cabot is Monk’s manager Mr. Hellman. Cabot is best remembered for his role in the original King Kong with Fay Wray. The entire movie was filmed in nine days and Mr. Nimoy was paid less then a thousand dollars for the part. It did receive decent reviews and was shown at the Bowdoin Square Movie House where the marquee proudly proclaimed “The West End’s Own Leonard Nimoy Starring in Kid Monk Baroni”.

MrKid Monk B. Nimoy has said that the role did not lead to fame and fortune, it would be many more years before that happened, but it did something very important for him. He said it gave him the confidence that he could do the work. This confidence would serve to motivate him to keep sticking with it until he finally made it. He had the determination of a championship boxer. Oh, and he also showed some good footwork and hand movement in the movie. I have not been able to find out if he ever actually spent any time in the ring outside of the movie, but he certainly showed ability in the scenes I saw.

Kid MonkIn 2012 Mr. Nimoy was given an honorary degree by Boston University. In his speech he said to the graduates, “You are the creators and curators of your own life and work. Give us your best. We crave it, we hunger for it.” Leonard Nimoy always gave us his best and we are all the better for it.

Mona Golabek

Mona Golabek Is Magnificent in
The Pianist Of Willesden Lane
At The Hartford Stage Through April 26

I love theatre and have seen many great performances. I have seen many not so great works too, and some down right awful stuff, but I enjoy almost anything performed live on a stage. It also gives me pleasure to tell others about my experiences in the theatre, and by doing so, to inspire people who may not have had an interest in theatre to go and see what they are missing.

Lisa JuraI have just returned from Hartford where I have seen one of those very special performances, one that I wanted to never end. “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” is the true story of Lisa Jura, a 14 year old Jewish girl living with her family in Vienna during the beginning of the Nazi occupation in 1938. Lisa is played by her real life daughter Mona Golabek in this one actor production. Ms Golabek is an internationally celebrated concert pianist who co wrote a book about her mother’s life entitled “The Children of Willesden Lane”. Hershey Felder, remembered here in Boston for his superb performance in “George Gershwin Alone”, which he also wrote, adapted the book for the stage and asked Mona Golabek to play her mother. Though not a trained actress, she takes command of the stage in this incredibly moving story in which she includes playing pieces on the piano while she, in the role of her mother, tells the story of her journey from Vienna to London.

Lisa’s, who’s passion was the piano, and who dreamed of one day playing in recital The Piano Concerto in A Minor by Grieg, has her first experience of how her life was about to change when her piano teacher tells her he will no longer be able to give her lessons as it is now forbidden to teach Jews. Her father is no longer able to continue in his profession as a tailor and turns to gambling to support the family. On one terrible night, Krisatllnacht, he returns home bloody and beaten, but holding on to his winnings from a poker game. It is a single ticket for the Kindertransport, a program set up for Jewish children to be able to leave Austria and go to London. The Jura’s have three daughters, but Lisa is the one chosen to go. At the train station her mother tells her, “Lisa, Hold on to your music, it will be your best friend for life, and I will always love you.” With those words she is off on her journey all alone.

The Pianist of Willesden LaneMona Golabek plays not only her mother but many other major and minor characters in this performance. She tells of living with dozens of other Kindertransport children at a home in Willesden Lane in London. Of the friendships she makes, of the people who inspired and helped her, of the bombings, the destruction and rebuilding of the home, and how she had to continue her lessons without a teacher. She beautifully relates working as a seamstress by comparing it with music, “Each stitch was like another note of music…ending in a beautiful tapestry.” She does this while moving her hands along the piano keyboard to mimic the sewing machine, simply wonderful.

We are told of her playing the piano for the soldiers the night before D Day, and the French Resistance Officer she meets who would later become her husband. So much of this is sad, but it is also very uplifting to see how Lisa and all those with whom she is now sharing her life are able to survive and, more importantly, thrive amid the madness of war.

Ms Golabek is beyond outstanding in this performance. Every word, every note, comes from her heart. She is wonderful at the piano, and her acting skills are amazing as she moves among the many different characters and voices, but what is truly magnificent is how she tells her mother’s story, and how we are brought into her life. There was no one in the audience who wasn’t deeply moved by the story of Lisa Jura, and I am thankful to Mona Golabek for sharing her family and friends with us.

Lisa Tells Her StoryAs her performance comes to an end she takes time to tell the audience her story is dedicated “To every parent who had the courage to save their children by saying goodbye.”

I strongly recommend you see The Pianist of Willesden Lane. I could watch it over and over. For those of you who have never been to the theatre, this is as good an introduction as you will ever have. For those of you who do go, you will not be disappointed.

Mona Golabek In
The Pianist of Willesden Lane
Adapted and Directed by Hershey Felder
At The Hartford Stage Through April 26
www.hartfordstage.org
860.527.5151

Ali vs Folley: Another Phantom Punch?

March 22, 1967 would turn out to be the date of Muhammad Ali’s last bout for three years. He had been classified as 1A by the draft board and ordered to show up for induction in the coming months. Before the bout Ali spoke about this possibly being the last time for the public to see him in the ring “Live and in living color”. The bout was held in Madison Square Garden and his opponent was the veteran contender Zora Folley from Chandler, Arizona. The fight was televised on home TV, so it was guaranteed to be seen by a large audience.

As a young boy I remember watching the fight, and what stands out in my memory from that night was the fact that, even at such a young age, I thought there was something odd about the fight. I didn’t know what, but it just seemed that things weren’t quite right.

Looking at a recording of this fight now I still feel that way, though now I know why I felt that way. There were a number of things that went on before, after, and during this fight that were not typical of a Muhammad Ali fight.

Folley jabs bodyFor one thing, this was one of the only black opponents whom Ali faced where he didn’t demean him and come up with some disgraceful name for him. He called Ernie Terrell an Uncle Tom, Floyd Patterson a rabbit, and Liston was the ugly bear. In the future he would use the term gorilla and to describe Joe Frazier and also call him an Uncle Tom. Ali showed no restraint in using racist language to insult his black opponents.

With Zora Folley he took a very different tone. He was subdued and spoke respectfully of his challenger. He brought up how Folley was a good family man with many children. He spoke of the respect he had for him. This was a very different Ali. Even after the fight he continued to praise him and even reached out to one of Zora’s sons telling him to be proud of his father.

If Ali’s behavior seemed odd, things were also a bit strange in the Folley Camp. Historian Mike Silver visited the gym where Folley was training and describes the atmosphere there as being filled with “…an air of depression.” Even though Zora was past his prime and getting his first shot at the title late in his career, he should have been embracing this moment. Finally, his dream of fighting for the championship had come true. Silver mentions others who didn’t get a chance until very late in their careers; fighters like Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore, both of whom went all out once their long overdo opportunities finally arrived. There was none of this excitement in the Folley camp.

On the night of the bout Folley entered the ring quite a while earlier then Ali. He just remained seated on his stool while former champs and current contenders were introduced to the crowd (a great tradition that is now lost).When Ali made his entrance, Folley finally got up and loosened up a bit, but not much, odd behavior for a slick boxer who would normally want to break a sweat and be loose before the opening bell. Zora looked more like he would rather be someplace else then in the ring. It wasn’t a look of fear, but rather one of resignment. This was also strange behavior coming from a veteran of over 80 fights who had been in with most of the top contenders of his day including Sonny Liston whom he showed no lack of confidence with.

The fight itself looked almost surreal. Ali danced and circled for the first three rounds while Folley jabbed to the body and threw a few right hand counters that grazed Ali’s chin. There was a definite lack of urgency to Zora’s moves, but I suppose that can be attributed to patience as he was a methodical boxer, though I think it was something else. Those three rounds could be given to Folley but more because of the lack of any aggression on the part of Ali.

The fourth round was interesting. Ali hit Folley with an overhand right that did not seem to carry much power, and Zora went down flat on his face. He appeared to be out cold, and usually when a fighter is stretched out like that he is unconscious, but miraculously, at the count of four Zora suddenly came to life. He did a push up and got onto one knee. From that position he carefully listened to the referee count to nine before getting up. He was clear as a bell. I have never seen anything like this since. This seemed more like something from pro wrestling then boxing. Was Folley thinking of taking the full count and then had second thoughts? That’s what I believe.

Once he regained his feet he went right after Ali landing a good right that he did not follow up on. It was the only time in the bout where looked like he wanted to really win, but it was short lived.

The next couple of rounds were fairly slow though Ali did pick up the pace and won them. Between the sixth and seventh rounds, Ali’s manager Herbert Muhammad climbed up to the champion’s corner and whispered something in his ear. Afterwards, Ali would say that Herbert told him to stop playing around and get to work.

Folley's PushupIn the seventh round Ali came out and hit Zora with two overhand rights that were carbon copies of what he threw in the fourth. Again, Zora went down on his face, and again he came back to life, only this time instead of taking a knee he stumbled around the ring while the referee counted him out. He left the ring quickly after the announcer gave the official time of the ending of the fight.

In a New York Times wire story filed after the fight, Robert Lipsyte described the punch that floored Folley as a “phantom chop” and compared it with the punch that dropped Liston in Lewiston, Maine. Ali himself briefly described it as the Anchor Punch, the term he had used for the blow he hit Liston with. He quickly backtracked on that statement.

After watching this fight a number of times, I believe Zora Folley took a dive. Why would he do that? Well, it is pretty well known that most of Ali’s opponents received death threats before facing him. I think this happened to Folley and that it really had an effect on him. I think the Zora Foley who stepped into the ring that night was in fear of his life. Not because he was facing the fists of Ali, but because of what went on leading up to the fight. Of course, we’ll never know for sure.

“Fights of the Century”—Then…And Now.

By

Mike Silver

The recent Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao superfight was only the fifth boxing match in 109 years to be billed as “The Fight of the Century”. The previous century had seen four such matches, with the great boxing promoter George L. “Tex” Rickard responsible for three of them. Tex invented the phrase in 1906 to publicize the Joe Gans vs. “Battling” Nelson lightweight title fight. He made good use of it twice more over the next 15 years for the Jack Johnson vs. James J. Jeffries and Jack Dempsey vs. Georges Carpentier heavyweight title fights. Of course logic would dictate that there could be only one “Fight of the Century” but whoever said the business of boxing was logical? The last fight prior to Pacquiao and Mayweather to be labelled a “Fight of the Century” was the Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali heavyweight championship in 1971.

Joe Gans - Boxing over Broadway
“The Old Master” Joe Gans, circa 1906

Of the five contests mentioned above only 2 managed to actually live up to the tremendous pre-fight build up. Despite the huge social and political ramifications of the 1910 heavyweight championship bout between Johnson and Jeffries the actual fight was a dud. Johnson, still in his prime, easily dominated the previously undefeated former champion (who was making an ill-advised comeback after a five year layoff) before stopping him in the 15th round.

The Dempsey vs. Carpentier extravaganza of 1921 was also hugely significant but for different reasons. Over 90,000 fans—the largest crowd to ever attend a sporting event—watched Dempsey flatten the overmatched Frenchman in less than four rounds. Dempsey vs. Carpentier will never make anyone’s all-time list of great fights but its importance to the economic and cultural side of boxing was monumental. For the first time in history a sporting event had drawn over one million dollars in paid admissions. It was also the first time a championship match was broadcast over the radio. The fight jump started the Golden Age of sports in America and transformed professional boxing into popular entertainment for a mass audience.

            As anyone who saw it will attest, the first Ali vs. Frazier fight more than lived up to its pre-fight hype. Like Johnson vs. Jeffries 61 years earlier the event was intertwined with the social and political issues of the times. But unlike that fight it was an intense and exciting struggle between two undefeated heavyweight champions that brought out the best in each man. The combined worldwide audience (live and at theatres showing the fight on closed circuit television in America or telecast for free via satellite throughout the rest of the world) was estimated at over one billion people, in other words about half the planet. Madison Square Garden, the venue for the fight, priced ringside tickets at $150 dollars. The cheapest balcony seat was only $20 dollars. (The wildly inflated ticket prices in Las Vegas for Pacquiao vs. Mayweather ranged from $1500 to $10,000).

So which “Fight of the Century” deserves top honors? I think a very strong case can be made for the 1906 duel between Gans and Nelson, arguably one of the most incredible and disturbing boxing matches ever staged. The battle between “The Old Master” and “The Durable Dane” for the lightweight championship of the world was a fight for the ages. It took place in Goldfield, Nevada, a mining boomtown located halfway between Reno and Las Vegas. The town’s financial bigwigs, flush with money, decided that some kind of spectacular public attraction would draw further attention and generate additional infusions of cash into Goldfield’s mining stock. (Much of what they sold turned out to be worthless mining properties, but that’s another story). A committee of distinguished citizens was formed to come up with proposals. One suggestion was that a giant hole be dug along the main street and filled with free beer. Another idea was to stage a camel race. Enter Tex Rickard, cattle rancher, gambling hall impresario and promoter extraordinaire. Rickard had already made and lost several fortunes. Sensing an opportunity, he proposed an all-star boxing match between two of the world’s best boxers– lightweight champion Joe Gans and his number one challenger “Battling” Nelson. The idea was immediately accepted.

Joe Gans, the first African American boxing champion, won the lightweight championship in 1902. Dubbed “The Old Master” because of his extraordinary skill, he had already cleaned out the lightweight division and was forced to take on welterweights and middleweights to keep active. The only serious challenger to his title was a boxing brute named Oscar Mathew “Battling” Nelson of Chicago, by way of Denmark. Nelson’s other nickname was “The Durable Dane”. He was the type of fighter who thrived on fights beyond 15 rounds. Nelson was a rough customer with a reputation as a dirty fighter. He seemed impervious to punishment and his stamina and relentless style was legendary. His trademark punch was a short left hook aimed at the liver, with thumb and forefinger extended to provide greater penetration. Nelson claimed the “White lightweight championship” and was confident he could defeat Gans in a “fight to the finish”—meaning a fight with no time limit. Such a fight could not end in a decision but would continue indefinitely until one of the contestants was either knocked out, quit or was disqualified.

Fights to the finish, a staple of the bare-knuckle era, were not uncommon in early turn of the century gloved fights, especially in the western states. A bout limited to 15 or 20 three minute rounds would favor Gans. A fight to the finish against iron man Nelson was another matter. Gans, in need of cash, and having run out of challengers who would agree to fight him, consented to a finish fight. He was confident he could knock out Nelson.

Nelson’s almost super human ability to absorb punishment and his endless reserves of stamina was fascinating to some people. Among the curious was Columbia University’s rowing coach Dr. Walter B. Peet. He examined the “Durable Dane” for his endurance and found Nelson’s heart beat to be only 47 beats per minute compared to 72 for the average person. As the good doctor explained it, such a low heartbeat was only found in the “colder blooded animals which survived the days of antiquity and the cold of the Ice Age.” Further consultation with surgeons and the curator of the American Museum of Natural History concluded that measurements of Nelson’s head revealed “the thickest skull bones of any human being since Neanderthal man.” It seemed obvious that “Battling” Nelson would have the advantage in a fight to the finish.

Nelson threatened to pull out of the fight several times unless he received the lion’s share of the purse. Gans, in desperate need of a decent payday, agreed to accept a $10,000 guarantee while Nelson, the challenger, was to receive $20,000. The fight was scheduled for Labor Day, September 3, 1906. (Ever the showman, Rickard displayed the entire $30,000 purse in twenty-dollar gold pieces in full view through a window of a bank in Goldfield).

Aware of Gans’ precarious financial condition and how much he wanted the fight Nelson’s manager made the unprecedented demand that he weigh in three times on the day of the fight (at noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m.) while wearing his trunks, gloves and shoes. It was a blatant attempt to weaken the champion. Gans would have to weigh no more than 133 pounds or else forfeit $5000 of his purse. The great fighter, confident of victory, agreed to all of the demands.

On the day of the fight Gans was quoted in his hometown paper, The Baltimore Sun: “I have given in on every point just to secure this match. I am betting everything I can get my hands on, and I have got to win. I will have the Dane chopped to pieces and asleep inside of 15 rounds”. Nelson told the same paper, “I am going to give Gans an awful beating, and I think he will be begging for mercy long before the twentieth round is reached. I will let Gans wear himself out, and then I’ll come through and get him. Watch me. There will be crepe in Coontown on Labor Day while the Danish descendants are celebrating.”

A week before the fight all hotel rooms were sold out. Late arrivals slept on the ground. Many of the 200 Pullman cars that had been chartered to transport fight fans served as hotel rooms.

The 24 year old Nelson had 70 pro fights under his belt. Gans, eight years older, was a veteran of 187 fights. Both weighed in at 132 ¼ pounds. Gans was favored at odds of 10 to 7.

They entered the ring shortly after 3 p.m. Some 8000 fans filled the wooden arena built especially for the fight. Gate receipts of $76,000 set a new world record for title fights. Among the ringside spectators were a U.S. senator, various mining tycoons, stars of the Vaudeville stage and the son of President Theodore Roosevelt. Before the fight began several telegrams sent by prominent individuals were read to the crowd, including one from Joe’s mother imploring her son to “bring home the bacon”, words that have since entered the American lexicon.

In one last attempt to further undermine Gans’s chances Nelson’s manager, Billy Nolan, argued that Gans should have weighed in wearing bandages on his fists. Gans responded that he would fight without taping his hands. It was a decision he would regret after breaking his right hand on Nelson’s head in the 32nd round.

For security purposes Rickard had arranged for 300 deputy sheriffs, their open vests displaying holstered pistols, to maintain order. To forestall any shenanigans by his crooked manager Gans announced to the crowd that he had instructed referee George Siler to ignore any attempt by his corner to throw in the towel no matter his condition. Nelson told the referee to do the same for him. By mutual agreement only the referee would have the authority to stop the fight. The crowd, evenly divided in their sentiments, cheered both fighters.

As expected Gans dominated the early rounds by easily outboxing Nelson. His accurate and powerful punches drew blood from Nelson’s nose, mouth and ears. Despite the punishment Nelson kept coming forward. Gans was the division’s hardest puncher but no matter how many times he landed Nelson rarely broke ground. The crazed Dane kept boring in, attempting to place his head against Gans’ chest and deliver body blows at close range. More often than not, utilizing his superb footwork, jab and counterpunching skills, Gans was able to keep most of the action at long range, even managing to knock down his rock jawed challenger twice for short counts. In desperation Nelson began butting Gans. Gans protested to the referee. Warnings were issued but no action was taken.

The pace of the fight was relentless. During the minute rest between rounds each man’s seconds waved huge towels in an attempt to offer their fighter some relief from the sweltering desert heat. Finally, in the 10th round, Nelson bloodied Gans’s mouth with a series of punches. After 15 rounds of fighting Gans had lost, at most, two rounds. The pace finally began to slow after the 20th round. There was more wrestling and clinching as the fighters sought to grab a few moments respite before beginning another assault.

By the 30th round both gladiators were showing signs of exhaustion. They had fought under the broiling Nevada sun the equivalent of two grueling 15 round title bouts. Nelson, although bleeding profusely and with his left eye closed, was still the aggressor and was now landing more often. At one point, after missing a swing, he fell through the ropes whereupon Gans, a consummate sportsman, reached down to help him back into the ring. Nelson responded by kicking him in the shins.

As the bout passed the two hour mark there was an increase in stalling and wrestling. Even the fans were showing signs of exhaustion. At the bell signaling the start of the 40th round the crowd was in awe of the fact that both warriors were still standing.

As described in Joe Gans: A Biography of the First African American World Boxing Champion, authors Colleen Aycock and Mark Scott attempt to understand the mental state of the fighters as the bell rang for the 41st round: “It is quite possible that both Gans and Nelson are in a state of clinical delirium at this point, but their bodies are trained to fight on with or without their minds. Dehydrated, battered and bloody, the gladiators may or may not really know where they are.

“Nelson totters like a bull the picador has struck with forty lances. Gans the matador has been gored, fouled, and kicked, but is still waiting to deliver the coup de grace, a blow that will come at the beginning of the 42nd round that almost decapitates Nelson.” And so it finally ends. The iron man is at the end of his tether and on the verge of finally taking the count. Suddenly he strikes Gans with a low blow. Was the punch deliberate? Very likely Nelson sought to foul out instead of suffering the humiliation of a knockout defeat. Gans sank to the floor and was unable to continue. Intentional or not the foul blow was obvious to everyone in the arena and the referee had no choice but to disqualify Nelson and award the bout to Gans. No one objected to the disqualification.

Gans was carried out of the ring but not before announcing to the crowd that he would meet Nelson again in two weeks to prove he could win without being fouled. A cascade of boos and derision descended upon Nelson. He quickly retreated to his dressing room.

The much anticipated rematch would not take place for another two years. It would not carry the label of “Fight of the Century”. By that time Gans, his resistance compromised by his struggle to make weight for their first marathon fight, had contracted tuberculosis. Gans fought the last two years of his career while slowly dying. The man acknowledged to be one of the ten greatest boxers of all time (some say the greatest) passed away in 1910 at the age of 35. His record showed only 12 losses in 196 fights, including 100 wins by knockout.

Battling Nelson, surely one of the toughest and dirtiest fighters who ever lived, would go on to win the lightweight title and defeat the disease ravaged Gans in two subsequent bouts. But he paid an awful price for his shock absorbing style of fighting. The Durable Dane eventually lost his mind and ended his last days in an insane asylum while still training for a comeback.

Kiss Me Kate

The Hartford Stage Brushes Up “Kiss Me Kate”
With A Beautiful Production That
Is Pleasing to the Eyes, Ears, and Heart

I last saw a production of the Cole Porter musical “Kiss Me Kate” in 2009 in Boston, and I was very disappointed. I left the theatre thinking that perhaps this wonderful play was too dated to go over today. Well, I was greatly mistaken. In the hands of Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak along with choreographer Peggy Hickey, Kate is alive and well and living on a stage in Hartford.

This is the first musical I have seen at THS and I was impressed. With a sixteen-piece orchestra, yes, a real orchestra led by Kris Kukul, amazing sets and costumes, and a fantastic cast, this production of Porter’s take on The Taming of the Shrew will have you humming Wunderbar as you leave the theatre.

Mike McGowan and Anastasia Barzee
Mike McGowan and Anastasia Barzee

Set in a theatre in Baltimore in the late 1940s, the play revolves around an acting company that is staging Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”. The actor’s personal problems, which include love, gambling, keeping the production financially solvent, and dealing with the leading actors being a divorced couple who still carry a torch for each other, though they try very hard to hide it, all spill over to their performances of the Bard’s work.

The back stage scenes are very realistic with a multi level rehearsal space and dressing rooms. The center of the stage revolves so we can see the entrances to actor’s quarters as well as the interiors..

Anastasia Barzee and Neptune
Anastasia Barzee and Neptune

As beautiful as these back stage settings are, your eyes are in for an amazing treat when the scenes turn to the staging of “The Taming of the Shrew”. The colors are vivid and absolutely beautiful. The costumes gorgeously detailed. Watching this performance I felt as if I had tuned in to high definition theatre. I don’t think I have ever seen as beautiful a setting in all my years of going to theatre. With the multi level sections now being used as buildings where the actors open doors and pop their heads out, particularly Kate who uses her perch from above to pelt suitors: Just the thing for the woman who proclaims “I Hate Men”.

“While my eyes were drinking in this beauty, my ears were filled with the pleasure of hearing the wonderful songs of Cole Porter”

While my eyes were drinking in this beauty, my ears were filled with the pleasure of hearing the wonderful songs of Cole Porter being performed by singers who knew how to put them over, with choreography that matched perfectly. Of course, it is hard to miss with songs such as “Too Darn Hot”, “Another Op’nin, Another Show”, “So In Love”, and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, but this isn’t just a bunch of very good singers belting out a few songs. No, this is a group of actors doing justice to this marvelous play.

Even the statue of Neptune that takes center stage for a good portion of the play gets in on the act in the number, “Tom, Dick, and Harry”. I won’t go into detail, but what would a Shakespeare inspired play be without a touch of the bawdy.

It is too much of a challenge to name all of the actors in this small amount of space, but I can say without reservation that everyone was top shelf.

If you want to brush up your Shakespeare, your Porter, and your musical theatre, get down to Hartford for this one. This is a Kate worthy of a huge kiss.

Kiss Me Kate Cast

Playing at the Hartford stage through June 14th. Info at www.hartfordstage.org

The Gloves Are Always Loaded

May 31st was the 32nd anniversary of the death of the great Jack Dempsey. On social media people marked the date by showing clips of Jack’s winning the Heavyweight Championship in brutal fashion from Jess Willard. In that bout Dempsey floored the giant Willard seven times in the first round administering one of the most severe beating ever seen in a boxing ring. By the end of the third round Jess was unable to continue having suffered broken bones in his face and ribs. For years it had been rumored that Dempsey’s hands were loaded (something heavy was put into his gloves along with his fists) for the fight. His former manager, with whom Jack had had a falling out, fed the flames by claiming to have taken part in the scheme. His accusations were driven by a desire to hurt his former champion. This controversy has been argued to exhaustion by fight fans over the years with most agreeing the fight was on the up and up, so I will not rehash the arguments here.

“In reality, the boxing glove has made the sport more dangerous.”

What has not been discussed much is the fact that in reality all boxers enter the ring with their gloves loaded, and I don’t mean with just their fists. It is interesting to learn just why the boxing glove and the taping of the hands came into existence, as most people believe it was to make the sport safer. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the boxing glove has made the sport more dangerous. I will give a very short history of how the boxing glove evolved and I think you will begin to understand what I mean.

The CestusThe first version of a boxing glove appeared in ancient Greece. The boxers of that era found they were breaking their hands when hitting each other in the head, so they began wrapping pieces of leather around their fists as a way to give more support to the bones in their hands. The ancient Romans, being the innovators they were when it came to making sports more barbaric, started adding small spikes to the leather hand wraps in order to make them even more deadly. There is an excellent example of this hand wrapping, or what was to become known as the cestus in the remarkable statute of “The Terme Boxer” or as it is more commonly known “The Boxer At Rest” in Rome. I have written about this incredible work of art before and include a photo of it with this article.

James FiggI will now skip ahead a couple of millennium to the period in England when boxing started to become very popular. In the 18th Century, James Figg, who has become known as the Father of Boxing, began developing a style of boxing, that while quite different from what we know it as today, set the stage for what would later develop into the modern sport of boxing. Figg incorporated many moves from the art of fencing into a sport that was to become known as boxing. This early version allowed for punching, but that was not the main emphasis. Grappling was also a big part of what went on in these matches. One of the reasons for the lack of punching was the fact that the combatants would break their hands hitting each other on the head. Our hands are made up of many small bones that break and bruise easily. Just ask anyone who has suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and they will tell you how delicate the human hand can be.

As the sport moved on into the 19th Century, fighters continued to deal with the best way to avoid breaking their hands. In many ways boxing became more primitive as many of the fencing moves were lost and the grappling increased. Many of these later bareknuckle matches would last for hours as neither participant would want to take a chance on throwing a knock out blow until they were sure their opponent had slowed down enough so they could land a clean shot on the jaw, thus not injuring their hand.

Eventually, many of these fighters began wrapping their hands and wearing light gloves in order to allow them the freedom to land more head punches without fear of hurting their hands.

As boxing moved into the 20th Century, hand wrapping became much more sophisticated and the gloves improved quite a bit. At no point were the gloves improved with the idea of making the sport safer. They were further developed in order to allow for more head punching. This actually made the sport much more dangerous, for it was now possible for a large number of punches to be thrown at and landed on the head. This resulted in an increase of head injuries.

caestAt the beginning of this article I stated that boxing gloves are always loaded. I will explain. If you have ever had your hands properly taped for a fight you will know that first a roll of gauze is wrapped around the hand. This is followed by having the gauzed secured with a goodly amount of tape in order to keep it in place and to greatly strengthen the hand and protect the bones. Once this taping is done, that “loaded hand” is placed into a boxing glove which gives it even more protection. Take a well wrapped hand encased in a boxing glove and you can throw a full throttle blow at a brick wall and not hurt your fist. I have actually done that. Now, just think of how much harder you can hit another human being in the head with this set up.

“The modern boxer does not go into the ring with lead weights in his gloves, but he does enter the ring with a fist that is greatly enhanced for the purpose of causing more damage to the head.”

The modern boxer does not go into the ring with lead weights in his gloves, but he does enter the ring with a fist that is greatly enhanced for the purpose of causing more damage to the head. Dempsey’s hands were not illegally loaded the day he destroyed Willard, but I can guarantee you he would not have been able to land those head punches if his hands had not been wrapped.

The idea that somehow the boxing glove was developed to make the sport safer is a myth. The boxing glove, along with hand wraps, have made boxing more dangerous. An argument can be made that if you wanted to make boxing safer you would ban hand protection.

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Nice Work If You Can Get It

At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Is S’Wonderful

A new musical featuring the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, with dance numbers inspired by Busby Berekely and Fred Astaire, along with tear inducing comedy routines, and beautiful sets created by the team at the Ogunquit Playhouse with a superb cast all make for as fun a night of theatre as you will have.

Nice Work first appeared on Broadway in 2012. This run is directed by Larry Raben who collaborated with choreographer Peggy Hickey to build this production from scratch.

Amanda Lea LaVergne and Joey Sorge
Amanda Lea LaVergne and Joey Sorge

The most familiar names in the cast, Sally Struthers and Valerie Harper , both do a fine job in their roles as Duchess Estonia Dulworth, the founder of The Society of Dry Women, and Millicent Winter respectively. Ms Struthers, who returns to the Playhouse each season, sings, dances, and even swings from a chandelier.

Sally Struthers as Duchess Estonia Dulworth
Sally Struthers as Duchess Estonia Dulworth

The play is set in Prohibition Era New York, and the leads Amanda Lea LaVergne as the swaggering bootlegger Billie Bendix and Joey Sorge as the not so terribly bright, but charming, wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter work wonderfully together. The scene where Billie Bendix sings the beautiful love song Someone To Watch Over Me while holding, loading, and cocking a shotgun is original and quite good. And then there is the spanking scene that brought down the house. You have to be there for that one.

“James Beaman as Cookie McGee who poses as the butler at the Winter estate while working with the gang to smuggle hooch almost steals the show with his wisecracking voice and superb timing.”

James Beaman as Cookie McGee who poses as the butler at the Winter estate while working with the gang to smuggle hooch almost steals the show with his wisecracking voice and superb timing. George S. Kaufman would have signed him up after seeing this performance. Of course, in order to deliver great lines an actor has to have them, and there are certainly plenty of them in this play such as when McGee cracks “I’m not going back to prison because it means spending more time with my family.”

McGee cracks “I’m not going back to prison because it means spending more time with my family.”

Sally Struthers is a very strong presence on stage who can say more with a look then many performers can say with an entire monologue; however, she has met her match in Mr. Beaman who never misses a beat.

Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix
Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix

It is refreshing to see a new production in this era of commodity musicals. While Nice Work would be successful just as a song and dance piece, it is side splittingly funny, so funny in fact that at times the cast members struggle to contain themselves. It is a pleasure to watch a play where the actors are having as much fun performing as the audience is watching it.

I often praise the shows at the Ogunquit Playhouse and there is a good reason for that, they are consistently good. Some are better then others and I have my favorites. Nice work If You Can Get It is now up near the top of my list. You will not be disappointed if you see this. What you will do is leave the theater smiling and humming a tune. I just may go see it again.

Nice Work If You Can Get It at the Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME through August 15th. For information call 207.646.5511 or go to ogunquitplayhouse.org

Update:

Brenda Vaccaro will step into the role of Millicent Winter

Academy Award nominated film star Brenda Vaccaro will step into the role of Millicent Winter in the production of Nice Work If You Can Get It now playing on the Ogunquit Playhouse stage through August 15. Valerie Harper, who had been performing in the role, continues to rest after falling ill on July 29. Ms. Vaccaro will take the stage for the 8PM

performance on Tuesday, August 4, and through the end of the run.

 

Brenda Vaccaro
Brenda Vaccaro

“Valerie is feeling great right now and we want her to continue to rest and to enjoy her family. After discussing with them, we decided that we wanted to relieve her of any pressure of having to return to the show, which only runs for two more weeks. With Valerie’s blessing, the Ogunquit Playhouse is thrilled to announce that Brenda Vaccaro, star of film, television and stage, has arrived in Ogunquit to take over the role of Millicent Winter,” stated Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney.

Brenda Vaccaro is considered to be one of our nation’s most respected actresses. She has received an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, the People’s Choice Award, and the Theater World Award. In addition, she has been honored with two Academy Award nominations, five Tony Award nominations, and numerous Emmy Award nominations.

Million Dollar Quartet

Opens At The Ogunquit Playhouse August 19th

The high voltage-voltage rock and roll musical Million Dollar Quartet will run at the Ogunquit Playhouse from August 19th through September 19th. The play is was inspired by the true story of a meeting at Sun Records Studio in Memphis that brought legends Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash together for an afternoon that turned into a legendary jam session.

Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash, Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins, Jacob Rowley as Elvis, and Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet
Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash, Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins, Jacob Rowley as Elvis, and Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet

The Playhouse production will feature the original Broadway set designed by Derek McLane.  I will be reviewing this play over the weekend. I’ll let you know what I think as soon as I get back. Looks like there will be a whole lot of shaking go on in Ogunquit, so i hope I am not all shook up after seeing this.

 

For more information you can contact the Playhouse at www.ogunquitplayhouse.org  or call the box office at 207.646.5511

The Boxing Lithographs of George Bellows At The Boston Public Library

by David Curcio

George Bellows said, “I don’t know anything about boxing, I am just painting two men trying to kill each other.”

George Bellows said, “I don’t know anything about boxing, I am just painting two men trying to kill each other.” What underlies the attraction to such violence? As a reenactment of Freud’s postlapsarian, atavistic death instinct outlined in Civilization and its Discontents, boxing flies in the face of the great human tragedy wherein we exchange the destructive impulses of the id for the safety—and neuroses—of civilization, providing a vicarious forum for these unconscious urges to play out. A less pessimistic reading is of the sport as theatre in its purest form, stripped of all artifice.

George Bellows
George Bellows

The Boston Public Library’s Rare Books and Prints Department is home to the entire catalog of George Bellows’ lithographs, produced between 1916 and the year of his death in 1925 at the age of forty-two. Of these 193 prints, sixteen depict boxing, bearing witness to an age when the sport, as one reporter wrote, “dominated everything.”1In the first half of the twentieth century, fights carried enormous political weight in regards to national identity and made daily headlines, with salaries of successful fighters dwarfing those of other celebrities. Important bouts at once fomented racial tensions and advanced integration, paving the way for the civil rights movement to follow decades later. Not even someone who claimed not to “know anything about boxing” could feign ignorance of important fights and fighters during this golden age.

Bellows arrived in New York in 1908. Studying under Robert Henri, the founder of the Ashcan School of urban realists, he set out to portray the vice and squalor—largely ignored by the art viewing public—of the metropolis at the dawn of the Industrial Age.

Bellows arrived in New York in 1908. Studying under Robert Henri, the founder of the Ashcan School of urban realists, he set out to portray the vice and squalor—largely ignored by the art viewing public—of the metropolis at the dawn of the Industrial Age. More than any other member of the group, Bellows focused on social issues including poverty, war, capital punishment, and lynchings. With its legality under fire in New York during the late teens, boxing, the dark shadow of the YMCA’s virtuous promotion of a healthy masculine ideal, was also a social issue. With thousands of immigrants and natives alike clamoring to compete for the paltry purses derived from fighting, it was, as David Remnick writes, “a game for the poor…who risk their health for the infinitesimally small chances of riches and glory.” 2

Bellows claimed that he was “not interested in the morality of prize fighting” and that “the atmosphere around the fighters [was]… more immoral than the fighters themselves.”

In Europe, lithography was popular among artists since its invention in 1796, but was considered a strictly industrial endeavor in the United States during the early twentieth century. Bellows wrote of his wish “to rehabilitate the medium from the stigma of commercialism,” and elevate it to a fine art form in its own right.3 For those unfamiliar with the process, a limestone plate is drawn upon with greasy pencil, charcoal or ink-like media to create a range of marks and tones. Based on the principle that oil and water don’t mix, the stone remains damp during the inking process so the greasy drawing material rejects the water but retains the ink prior to printing. Like his European precedents and contemporaries, Bellows considered lithography a means to recreate his drawings in surprising new ways. His prints soon piqued the interest of American print collectors previously interested exclusively in etchings.

Counted Out

 

Bellows’ apartment on Broadway was situated across the street from Sharkey’s Athletic Club where, as in other “Prizefighting Clubs” throughout the city, bouts were held in dank basements populated by petty criminals, gamblers, and gangsters. Before long, Bellows could also be counted among the attendees (partly out a desire to experience the dissipation of the city, partly out of his great admiration for Eakins’ boxing paintings). Unbound to the sport’s proscribed rules, fights in these clubs could last for hours, sometimes resulting in deaths. Bellows claimed that he was “not interested in the morality of prize fighting” and that “the atmosphere around the fighters [was]… more immoral than the fighters themselves.” Unlike the anonymous, distant crowds of Goya’s bullfighting lithographs 4, Bellows situates us ringside where we ourselves become the spectators. In Counted Out (1921), we are horrified to be counted among the leering, bloodthirsty crowd, instead empathizing with the felled fighter, his vitality ebbing like the Hellenistic Dying Gaul 5. Attraction and revulsion never reconcile, but uncomfortably coexist.

 

Stag at Sharkey's
Stag at Sharkey’s

In a suspended moment of histrionic fantasy, the two fighters in Stag at Sharkey’s (1909) rush, swing and defend, creating a single mechanized juggernaut within a High Renaissance composition. Each boxer lifts a leg absurdly high off the canvas as the other leg extends back to an impossible length. The two heads meet in the center while the cowing referee’s arm describes a line extending upward to end at one boxer’s elbow, forming a triangle’s apex, then drops back down along the shoulder, head, and his opponent’s outstretched leg. The dark basement contrasts with the illuminated pugs and spectators, while silvery tones define muscle that, according to Bellows, constituted his primary interest in the subject (prompting the dubious quote regarding his lack of interest in the sport). The omission of ropes on the viewer’s side of the ring places us squarely within the “amoral atmosphere.” Despite our complicity in its violence, Stag remains one of America’s most recognizable and coveted prints.

With its full-fledged legalization in New York, the “noble art of self defense” moved to large, glamorous venues, and Bellows’ boxing prints and paintings soon achieved culturally highbrow status

With its full-fledged legalization in New York, the “noble art of self defense” moved to large, glamorous venues, and Bellows’ boxing prints and paintings soon achieved culturally highbrow status. Boxing had become a passion of the working class and intellectual alike, underscoring Bellows’ rejection of the artist as an “effete academic.”6 There is no timeline or chronological charting of the sport’s rise or legal bumps within the prints—he drew stones of legal prizefights and illicit bouts intermittently, some to which he traveled out of state to record either for newspapers or his own edification. We must rely on telling depictions of crowds and surroundings to confirm the location and legality of the fight.

 

Preliminaries to the Bout
Preliminaries to the Bout

As ticket prices soared, purses grew to astronomical sums. As crowds spanned all ethnic and socioeconomic divisions, gates exceeded all expectations. Bellow’s interest in and knowledge of boxing only grew as he received commissions to portray famous fighters. Sometimes focus was places upon the crowds, the fight almost an afterthought. Preliminaries to the Bout (1916) commemorates the first title fight to allow women to attend, with men in top hats and society women in furs occupying the foreground, relegating the bout to a distant blur.

 

In late 1919, Bellow’s printer began grinding the lithographic stones to a smoother finish, allowing for more detail and tonal range. It was in these delicate tones that Bellows composed his second most popular print. Dempsey Through the Ropes (1923) immortalizes the greatest sports upset to date, wherein the seemingly unstoppable Jack Dempsey (whose salary tripled that of Babe Ruth during their roughly concomitant careers) was knocked out of the ring during a fight with the challenger Luis Firpo. While the mayhem that ensued in front of a crowd of 80,000 ended in a knockout by Dempsey, the spectacle made for world headlines.

 

Dempsey Through The ropesBellows wangled a front row seat to the fight (portraying himself in the lower left corner of the print) as a member of the press for an unpublished newspaper illustration. The fight remains controversial in that journalists in the front row illegally pushed Dempsey back into the ring. In what is certainly a bit of fiction, Bellows said of the incident, “Dempsey… fell in my lap. I cursed him a bit and placed him carefully back into the ring.”7 Photographs and newsreels show that Bellows was not among the crushed reporters, all of whom had typewriters. Joyce Carol Oates writes that the print “is a work of imagination, not journalism,”8 and Bellows’ daughter Emma confirms that her father worked from memory, frequently drawing directly on the stone. Indeed, there are many aspects of the print that call into question the accuracy of the scene, particularly the referee shown in mid-count a split second after the punch, his arm again used as a device in creating a triangular composition). Even the wildly famous Dempsey lacks distinguishing features (though Bellows did show care in achieving likenesses in other commissions). Of his sixteen boxing prints, only six of the fighters are identifiable. The rest are likely anonymous figures based on Bellows’ anatomical studies. While he always portrayed the same referees, none are recognizable. But anonymous, real, or imagined, his fighters retain humanity in their predicaments, frozen for eternity within a single, devastating moment.

 

While we may understand Bellows’ attraction to boxing, we continue grapple with the imagery’s lasting appeal. Impartial to race and status, the prints exhibit an admixture of social classes at a time when the masses were desperate for a quick ticket out of poverty. But as the New Yorker’s John Lardner wrote, “the longer you stay in it, the less you have.”9Bellows captured not just the brutality of two humans in combat, but the desperation and defeat of a sport at its most glamorous and most abhorrent. One explanation for their endurance lies in the viewer’s identification with these most basic of human emotions, whether acknowledged or repressed.

 

To view the Bellows Lithographs from the Wiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library, contact Karen Shafts at the Print Department at kshafts [at] bpl [dot] org.

 

1 Margolick, David, Beyond Glory: Joe Luis vs. Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink (New York: Alferd A. Knopf, 2005), 344

2 Quoted in Century, Douglass, Barney Ross (New York: Schocken Books, 2006), 20

3 Chotner, Deborah, et al., Bellows: The Boxing Pictures (The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1982), 67

4 Brown, Johnathan and Susan Grace Galazzi, Goya’s Last Works (New York: The Frick Collection, 2006), 161

5 Galata Morente, or “The Dying Gaul,” Roman marble copy of a lost Hellenistic Sculpture thought to have been executed in bronze, 230 – 220 BC

6 Childs Gallery, George Bellows: Master Draftsman and Lithographer, e-catalog

7 Morgan, Charles H., George Bellows: Painter of America (New York, Reynal and Company, 1965), 263

8 Oates, joyce Carol, George Bellows: American Artist (Hopewell, New Jersey, The Ecco Press, 1995), 59

9 Quoted in Guzzardi, Joe, A Fresh Look at Joe Louis (Lodi News Sentinel, Feb. 21, 2008) 24

 

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Give Him The Left Hook

Give Him The Left Hook

by Bobby Franklin

When first learning how to box, students of the Manly Art are usually told about the three basic punches: The jab, the right cross, and the left hook. (These would be reversed in the case of a southpaw.)

The jab has been called the most important punch in boxing, and it is. If you can’t reach your opponent with a jab, you will not be able to reach him with any other punch. It is both an offensive and a defensive blow and has many variations.

The right cross is used as a counter to the jab as it is the jab that it crosses over. When encountering a jab the person on the receiving end will attempt to slip it and fire a right hand over it with the intent of landing a good shot to the jaw.

The left hook is a great punch, but it is useless if not properly set up.

The left hook can be used in many ways. It is utilized as both a head and body punch. Like the jab, it can be thrown as a single punch or double and even tripled up. I have seen fighters through five and six in a row. It is also usually part of a combination such as, jab, right cross, left hook, all thrown in quick succession.

Robinson vs Fullmer
Robinson vs Fullmer

Many fighters have been known for having a great left hook, and it is a common, and usually true belief, that most boxers who rely on the hook tend to be shorter and often stockier then their counterparts. However, this is not always the case. Gerry Cooney was very tall and possessed a devastating left hook to the body. Tommy Morrison at 6’2” also had a tremendous left hook.

Robinson landed a perfectly timed hook to the chin of Fullmer knocking him out cold. Ray called the punch the most perfect of his career.

What has been called the greatest left hook ever thrown was not launched by a short stocky boxer but instead by a 5’11” middleweight by the name of Walker Smith Jr, more widely known as Sugar Ray Robinson. In the 5th round of his 1957 bout with Gene Fullmer, who was known as a hooker, Robinson landed a perfectly timed hook to the chin of Fullmer knocking him out cold. Ray called the punch the most perfect of his career, and many boxing experts have concurred with that sentiment. It was the only time Gene was ever knocked out. He was stopped in his last fight, but in that bout he retired on his stool.

A tall lanky boxer also landed two other memorable left hooks. Bob Foster at 6’3” and 174 pounds landed a picture perfect hook in winning the title from Dick Tiger. This was not a wild punch. Foster set Tiger up for the blow and then landed it flush on the chin with precision timing. Tiger was out cold for the only time in his career. As in Fullmer’s case, Tiger had only failed to go the distance one other time in his career, and that was a between rounds stoppage because of an injured thumb.

It is the paradox of boxing that fans were witnessing an artful display of boxing skill, a move that would rival that of any world class choreographed dancer, and at the same time watching a man possibly being killed…

In defending his title against Mike Quarry, Foster once again demonstrated the absolutely lethal power in his left hand. Again, he used his jab and shoulder feints to set up the

Bob Foster Stands Over Mike Quarry
Bob Foster Stands Over Mike Quarry

courageous Quarry. Once he made the opening, Foster let go with a left hook that rendered Mike unconscious before he hit the canvass. People in the arena and watching on closed circuit TV gasped as they saw the challenger fall to the canvas in a comatose state. It is the paradox of boxing that fans were witnessing an artful display of boxing skill, a move that would rival that of any world class choreographed dancer, and at the same time watching a man possibly being killed, and for a number of minutes following the blow it was in question whether the young Quarry would ever open his eyes again. Fortunately, he did regain his senses and got to his feet, but that punch will be remembered by all who witnessed it, and it will continue to invoke the question of how we can find such beauty in something so damaging to a fellow human being.

Ironically, Foster would later become the recipient of one of the most deadly left hooks ever landed when he challenged Joe Frazier for the Heavyweight Championship.

Joe fit the stereotype of the left hooker, being shorter and stockier then his opponent. He had also made a name for himself with the punch. His stoppage of Jimmy Ellis was another textbook example of how to throw the hook. In the final knockdown of that bout Frazier pivoted to his right and then landed a left hook flush on Ellis’s chin. Somehow Jimmy managed to get to his feet as the bell sounded, but Angelo Dundee mercifully stopped the fight at that point.

 

Frazier Knocks Out Foster
Frazier Knocks Out Foster

In the Foster vs Frazier fight Bob came out in the first round determined to make distance between himself and Joe. He was not going to fall into the trap of trading hooks with a hooker. He was jabbing and attempting to land his powerful right hand on Frazier, and he did manage to get a few in, but Joe was relentless. In the second round Joe dropped Foster with a left hook. When Foster arose, the champion pummeled him to the ropes where he landed a tremendous left hook to the jaw of the challenger. Foster was out cold. This time it was Bob Foster who was being counted over.

The left hook is a great punch, but it is useless if not properly set up. Yes, many boxers have gone out there and just thrown lots of hooks and eventually gotten lucky in landing one to win the fight, but as they move up to a higher caliber of competition they find that it takes more then just tossing punches. Both Foster and Frazier knew how to set up their opponents for the hook. Foster with his jab and feints, Frazier with his pressuring, slipping, and stepping to the side. It is these moves that put the art into the Art of Boxing.

 

 

My Brother The Boxer by Len Abram

Boxing came into my life when I was seven. In some ways, it never left.
I grew up in a small Massachusetts town with a few hundred Jewish families after World War II. An otherwise tolerant Christian community had a tiny minority, mostly teenagers, who insulted and bullied Jewish kids. After a few beatings, Jewish boys in Milford, including my 15-year-old brother Stanley, nicknamed Sookie, asked the synagogue leadership for help, a gym to learn to defend themselves.

Sookie At Age 14
Sookie At Age 14

The gym went into the basement of the synagogue. The businessmen who funded it knew what happened to millions of defenseless European Jews. The Rabbi of the congregation himself was a survivor, whose wife and children had been murdered. Recently, the state of Israel also fought for its life.

Upstairs in the synagogue were shelves of books and an ark with scrolls promoting loving your neighbor as yourself and praying for peace. These were among eternal truths of unmatched spiritual power. Downstairs, in the world of Everlast, was preparation for battle: stacks of York weights and barbells, benches, gloves, head gear, medicine balls, jump ropes, chin-up bars, mirrors, speed and heavy bags, a canvas-covered ring, and throughout, the smell of sweat on leather.

The boys needed a trainer and got two. A WWII veteran offered to help with physical conditioning. Jake, the vet, had been stationed on a Pacific island, on the supply chain to feed, fuel, clothe and arm MacArthur’s drive toward Japan. When the Navy guys could, they trained. They lifted two canteens dipped in cement at the ends of a broomstick.

With brand new equipment, Jake turned my brother and his friends into athletes. He found a boxing trainer, who taught my brother and his friends what A.J. Liebling has called, the sweet science. Sookie became his most able student.

“They lifted two canteens dipped in cement at the ends of a broomstick.”

In school, my brother wasn’t much of a student, but he trained to box for hours a day, sometimes four, sometimes six to prepare for a fight. He read books by Joe Louis and later Rocky Marciano, but Louis, the Brown Bomber, was his real hero, along with Moses and David Ben-Gurion.

I remember how Sookie came home from his road work, sprinting through the neighborhood. The lines around his mouth were white from exhaustion and nausea. How he held a barbell in his outstretched arm until his shoulder shook, this to strengthen his jab; how he dimpled the heavy bag with his gloved fists; how he turned the speed bag into a blur. He jump-roped and shadow-boxed into something that looked like a dance. The trainer used to slam a medicine ball into his tightened belly. My brother allowed one of my friends to punch him in the stomach with all his might. The slap of his fist was loud. My brother moved with the punch, which had little effect.

“He jump-roped and shadow-boxed into something that looked like a dance.”

As for sparring, my brother was nearly blind without glasses. He had to give them up in the ring. With no contacts available at the time, he watched his opponents’ feet. From their footwork, Sookie knew what they would throw. He’d block and counterpunch. Sookie was a very good counter puncher, for another reason.

My mother disapproved of violence and boxing, although there were plenty of Jewish boxers, some champions. My parents’ ideals were closer to those of the synagogue above the gym than the gym below. Perhaps this was one reason behind my brother’s complaint that he needed to get hit once to get into the fight. Counterpunching fit the defense-turned-offense requirement.

Sookie, Middle, With Sister Helen And Brother Len
Sookie, Middle, With Sister Helen And Brother Len

The purpose of the gym in the synagogue basement was defensive too. The bullying, intimidation and insults toward Jewish kids in the small town disappeared or decreased. The Jewish kids could defend themselves. That was enough to end their victimhood and teach many of us a lifelong lesson on how the world too often works.

My brother’s reputation as a fighter grew. We had a cousin in Revere, picked on because of his small size. One day when he was bullied, he invited the aggressor to wait for his cousin, who was sure to fight him when he next visited. Sookie arrived and the bully challenged him to a fight. In boxing, my brother learned that brawn is not enough. Boxing is a thinking sport, backed up by muscle. The bully tried to brawl. My brother hit him until he quit.

Sookie fought so well that he was encouraged to fight professionally. My father’s friends watched him spar, and offered to support him with cash while he trained and found fights. My parents were completely against that idea. I cannot tell if my brother was disappointed. Perhaps that would have made his beloved sport into a business.

Sookie went into the Army, where he finished his high school education. He went onto college under the GI Bill and studied until he had a master’s. He got married and had kids. He became a guidance counselor at a large regional high school and rode a motorcycle to school, even in winter. He didn’t box anymore, but he always trained. For a while, he led a fencing club at the high school. Students kept visiting him after he retired.

A decade before he died, he invited me to his basement, where he had set of vinyl-covered weights and barbells. We chatted about life while he lifted, sweating through hundreds of reps, as he called them, the stamina builders.

“These require – no other word for it — courage.”

Joan Benoit Samuelson, outstanding marathoner, says that “marathons are a metaphor for life.” Boxing is perhaps an even better metaphor. Like any athlete, the boxer sacrifices to reach the highest level of conditioning and skill. However, it’s the personal risk to the body and the brain, as well as the risk of humiliation in search of success, all within rules of good sportsmanship. These require – no other word for it — courage.

Years later, I wrote a song called “The Boxer’s Creed” with this chorus:
You’re not going down
Say it between rounds
Until your soul hears the sound
You’re not going down.
Fists in the air
Bring it on, Despair,
I am not going down, not going down.

Is Floyd Mayweather, Jr. an All-Time Great Boxer?

BY

MIKE SILVER

“Floyd’s technical flaws are obscured by his extraordinary speed and athleticism, but on the few occasions when he defended his title against a capable opponent these flaw were exposed.”      

If the modern era of professional boxing had begun in the 1980s instead of the 1890s there is no question that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. would rank among the top ten greatest boxers of all-time. But the modern era of professional boxing began over 100 years ago. That is a lot of boxers to consider! Most historians agree the sport’s true golden age, in terms of the numbers of quality boxers competing at the same time, occurred from the 1920s to the 1950s. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. turned pro in 1996. He is undefeated in 48 fights. Yes, his amazing speed, reflexes and keen sense of anticipation have enabled Floyd to win titles in five weight divisions—but could he have attained that same level of success if matched against the best fighters of decades past?

Before I go any further let me establish some ground rules. I do not measure a contemporary fighter’s alleged greatness by the number of title belts he possesses or his won-loss statistics. The out of control title inflation that has plagued the sport in recent decades and the huge number of undefeated records (unprecedented in the history of the sport) built on inferior opposition should deemphasize those factors. Far more important is an accurate analysis of the fighter’s technical skills while at the same time taking into account the quality of his competition.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS

Prior to the 1970s, before an alphabet soup of competing “sanctioning organizations” wrecked boxing’s traditional infrastructure by anointing their own set of champions and contenders (often based on payoffs and corrupt relationships with powerful promoters) the boxing establishment recognized 8 world champions in 8 traditional weight divisions. That was the self-imposed general rule for more than half a century.  It wasn’t a perfect system (after all, this is boxing) but for the most part it worked. Boxing fans could easily identify the 8 champions and the 80 “top ten” contenders, all of whom were rated according to merit. Today, thanks to the greed of the quasi-official sanctioning groups (their racket is extorting “sanctioning fees” from every fighter who competes for one of their cheesy title belts) there are over 100 “world champions”. Even dedicated fight fans would be hard pressed to name more than half a dozen. In order to multiply the number of champions—thereby generating more fees—these boxing parasites created nine additional weight divisions (of which at least seven are unnecessary). There are now about 700 “top ten” contenders in 17 weight divisions listed among the four major sanctioning groups.  In other words, there are far more opportunities to win a championship than ever before—and also to defend it against a challenger plucked from the thinnest talent pool the sport has ever known.

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has taken advantage of and benefited from the absurdity by often cherry picking challengers who he surmised would present less of a threat. Against such limited opposition Floyd’s technical flaws are obscured by his extraordinary speed and athleticism. But on the few occasions when he defended his title against a capable opponent these flaws were exposed.

MOMENT OF TRUTH

Although Manny Pacquiao was among the two or three best opponents that Mayweather had ever faced, their recent mega bout came at least five years too late. Both fighters were passed their prime. Mayweather won a very close decision, but their fairly tame encounter failed to provide the answers we seek. It was his bout with Oscar DeLa Hoya eight years earlier, when Floyd was at his absolute best, that does provide the answer.

“In a pugilistic population lacking both seasoning and ring savvy, fighters with superior athletic prowess automatically rise to the top.”

Oscar De LaHoya was the first opponent that Mayweather encountered in his prime who was at or near his level. Oscar was slightly passed his own prime and had fought but once in the previous 20 months but he was still one of the best boxers in the world. The result was a very close split decision victory for Mayweather. Shortly after that bout I interviewed several boxing experts asking for their thoughts on Mayweather. I included their comments in my book, “The Arc of Boxing”. Following are excerpts from those interviews.

WEIGHING IN

Teddy Atlas (one of the sport’s greatest trainers and currently a ringside analyst for ESPN):

“In the old days there were fighters who were good defensively, but the difference was they had the attitude, and the wherewithal, to go and find a way to create an offense that would make it possible to take control of the opponent in a more meaningful way, in a more dominant way, and in a much more productive way.

“Even a recent fighter like Sugar Ray Leonard, who I think was a terrific fighter, would find a way to be aggressive and get to his opponent while at the same time maintaining a responsible defense. He would not just find a way to do enough to just get by.

“In his fight against Oscar De La Hoya, there didn’t seem to be an ability shown to you by Mayweather to create another way to get to him—other than when De La Hoya made it easy for him and just opened the door for him by walking in with no jab and not offering up the answers and the resistance that he should have. The only offense that was created by Mayweather was actually given to him by his opponent.

“Whenever De La Hoya used his left jab this ‘great’ fighter Mayweather looked like he had no answers.”

            “Boxing means using your head, using geometry, using the science of angles, the science of adjustments. And all you have to do is make it a kind of landscape where the other guy can’t use what he has. You fight in a place where speed doesn’t come into play. You use your reach to keep your opponent at a certain distance where you can time him. Timing can always get the better of speed when it’s used properly and understood properly. You time your opponent and keep him at the end of your punches. And if you use your reach properly you are not giving him anything to counter. Whenever De La Hoya used his left jab this ‘great’ fighter Mayweather looked like he had no answers. But when Oscar didn’t use his jab and just walked in it looked like Oscar had the problem.

“When De La Hoya forced Mayweather to the ropes he flailed away instead of placing his punches in the right way. You would expect a fighter at that level to find the right places and to know what the right places were, and where they were. De La Hoya threw his punches almost in a hopeful way. Real top guys don’t throw in a hopeful way. They throw their punches in a defined way— in a way that their experience and judgment tells them they need to throw.

You cannot get intoxicated to the point where you are comparing Floyd Mayweather Jr. to the greatest fighters of all time. I’m not taking anything away from Floyd, but I think it’s insulting to the great fighters and to the great history of the sport to make that comparison.”

 

Mike Capriano, Jr. (Former trainer and manager. Saw his first pro fight in 1938. During the 1950s was head coach for the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps boxing team that won a record number of service championships):

“I think the critics have a misunderstanding of the difference between speed of movement and speed of attack. Those fast and elusive old time boxers we saw always were involved in maintaining the attack. They were always looking for spots to land effective punches. They weren’t runners doing nothing and then jumping in and throwing a flurry of punches. They were different.

“Ali never ran away like Mayweather. Ali was fast but he was moving left to right and looking to hit you with punches. Sugar Ray Robinson was also extremely fast. He was up on the soles of his feet bouncing and moving left to right. But he wasn’t running here and running there. He was interested in making contact with his punches. And Robinson was a very hard puncher.

“Mayweather just wants to punch and run. But against those old time welterweight and middleweight fighters you are not going to do that because they’re going to keep you on the ropes and hit you with clean punches. He could run all he wants but sooner or later he has to come in to make contact with his opponent and then those guys are going to tie him up and grab him, push him into the corner, push him up against the ropes and start ripping punches up.

“When De La Hoya had Mayweather on the ropes he was unable to hurt him or keep him there. You’ve got to be able to slide and move in. De La Hoya doesn’t know how to do that. He doesn’t know how to move under punches. He’s in that crouch but he doesn’t bend under and really get down. He’s slapping Mayweather 100 times with that left hand when he’s got him on the ropes and it’s ineffective.

“What De La Hoya should have done when he had Mayweather on the ropes was to stay right in his middle. He should have had his head right in the middle of his chest. You then take a step back to get leverage and throw an uppercut or hook. De La Hoya did not know how to keep him on the ropes.

“This fight wasn’t any kind of test that establishes the credibility of greatness. They both looked like a pair of ordinary ten round fighters.”

  “Neither fighter landed any terrific punches; no right cross combinations or left hooks underneath and over…real punches that dug in. They also did not appear to know how to step in with their punches.

“This fight wasn’t any kind of test that establishes the credibility of greatness. They both looked like a pair of ordinary ten round fighters. They traveled the distance well but, as I’ve said, they are not getting hit by guys that are going to hurt you. The better old timers would feel they’re opponent out for a couple of rounds and then, all of a sudden, ‘bing, bang’ you’d see some dynamite punches coming in.

May weather vs De La Hoya
May weather vs De La Hoya

“Carmen Basilio would have beaten both De La Hoya and Mayweather. They are not in Emile Griffith’s class either. And how about Kid Gavilan? I mean Gavilan’s going to fire punches that make a difference. And he’s strong and he’s pushing you. Gavilan would have Mayweather on the run, up against the ropes. He’d be throwing that bolo and other shots and he’s hurting Mayweather. It’s a different kind of fight.

“Fighters like Joey Archer and Billy Graham are going to box Mayweather. They’d have that left hand out in front and throwing combination punches. They are going to box him. And when Mayweather jumps in to deliver his quick punches he’s not going to hit anybody because they’re going to tie him up and put him back out there. It’s going to be a boxing match. The old pros are looking at him and arranging for where they’re going to attack and they’re setting him up.

“The old timers came to fight. He could do all the running, but they wouldn’t get caught up in his evasive movements. Mayweather has speed, but it is not combined with cleverness. They’d just wait until he’s in position where they could hit him. He’s going to have to fight sometime. The referee is going to tell him ‘look, you’ve got to engage this guy’. We’ve seen fighters run all night and people began booing and carrying on. So he can run around but when he fights a superior pro you’d see a different fight. You won’t see it today because no one knows how to do that. Fighters like Fritzie Zivic gave people college educations. There’s no one around like that today.”

 

Tony Arnold (Amateur and professional boxer 1949-1957. Former archivist for one of boxing’s largest film libraries):

“What did Mayweather do with his speed? He made De La Hoya chase him. That’s all. He didn’t use his speed like a Willie Pep to maneuver around an opponent’s defenses and hit him with sharp combinations and then move out of the way. I’m talking about using speed in a clever way. Mayweather just used his speed to keep himself from getting hit. And that’s supposed to be a great? There was no real display of skill or strategy.

“Mayweather’s jab is so tentative and ineffective I can’t even call it a jab. His right foot was already going back as he threw it. He was backing off because he’s very cautious and he was worried about a counter punch. The jab was just keeping distance between him and De La Hoya. It wasn’t being used to out box De La Hoya, it wasn’t controlling the fight and it wasn’t even a good defensive move because he wasn’t able to do anything. He just jabbed and backed off. But that tentative jab was enough to keep De La Hoya at long range for much of the fight.

“Mayweather’s strategy was to hit De La Hoya with quick pot shots and dance away and just pile up enough points to stay ahead, which he barley did. I mean the fight was practically even as far as I’m concerned. Mayweather did not set anything up. He didn’t make De La Hoya miss and then counter. He was relying on his speed and luck to land punches. They were just flailing at each other. I didn’t see any smart combinations. I did not see any good calculating counter punching. I never saw either fighter throw a two or three-punch combination. There was no taking advantage of mistakes. There was no looking for opportunities. I don’t think they would have known an opportunity if it fell on them. Mayweather and De La Hoya are not thinking fighters with the skill or experience to know what to look for.

“Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has a great deal of natural ability but it hasn’t been brought out the way it was with fighters of years ago. I don’t think he jabs enough. And he doesn’t take advantage of opportunities.”

“Mayweather is quicker than the other guy, he throws faster punches, he maneuvers around, but he doesn’t show any real skills. I didn’t see any real feinting or good head movement. I never saw him slip and counter. Not once. I didn‘t see any skill in that area at all. He’s got so many flaws.”

Bill Goodman (Licensed corner man with the New York Athletic Commission 1957-66. A student of the boxing scene for over 60 years):

“Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has a great deal of natural ability but it hasn’t been brought out the way it was with the fighters of years ago. I don’t think he jabs enough. And he doesn’t take advantage of opportunities. He ducks and slips punches but instead of taking advantage of what he just did he lets it go by. He doesn’t follow up. He makes some pretty moves, and looks nice doing it, but nothing happens. He doesn’t fire. Mayweather throws one left hand and he stops punching. He doesn’t follow it up with 2-3-4 left jabs like they did years ago. Consequently, he doesn’t get a barrage going, he doesn’t get any momentum.

“Mayweather is very fast, but he does not compare to those better welterweights that were around years ago. How can you compare him to a guy like Tommy Bell from the 1940’s? It’s night and day. Of course someone who doesn’t know Tommy Bell would see a number of losses on his record and not be impressed. But look at who he fought! Bell fought anybody and everybody. Like most fighters he stayed around a lot longer than he should have, but in his prime he would have licked both Mayweather and De La Hoya with one hand tied behind his back.

“Even a guy like Gil Turner, who was a 1950’s welterweight contender, wouldn’t have any trouble with either Mayweather or De La Hoya. Isaac Logart and Gene Burton wouldn’t have any problem with them either. Not only were these contenders well educated; they put their education to use. They fought frequently and kept busy—and they were better fighters.

“They talk about Mayweather’s speed, but he isn’t as fast and as skillful as Bernie Docusen who fought Sugar Ray Robinson for the title in 1948 and gave him plenty of trouble. Would you say Mayweather’s going to give Ray Robinson as a welterweight plenty of trouble?

“There’s no comparison. But you go and tell that to a young boxing fan today and they think you’re a psycho.”

 

What these authentic boxing experts are saying (and I emphasize the word “authentic”) is that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. despite his obvious talent, is not in the same league as the best champions and contenders of previous decades. To the untrained eye Mayweather appears to be a great fighter because his dazzling speed is more than enough to dominate second and third rate opponents. But when faced with an opponent that he could not totally dominate with his speed Floyd’s stylistic flaws were revealed.

PROFESSIONAL AMATEURS

Part of the problem many people have in evaluating the quality of today’s champions is that since the 1990s the line separating the skills of top amateur and top professional boxers has become blurred. Most of today’s champions have extensive amateur backgrounds. But they are not exposed to the same type of professional apprenticeship common to fighters of the past. The majority win a title belt before their 20th pro contest and have fought less than 150 rounds (the averages years ago were 40 to 70 fights and about 400 rounds). There is no chance to gain the kind of bout-to-bout education and experience that empowered the early greats. This is why there remains a hint of lingering amateurism in the fighting styles of most of today’s champions. They do not need to master the finer points of professional boxing technique because the competition does not demand it. In addition, most of today’s trainers do not have enough knowledge or background to teach the old moves. Body punching, feinting, drawing a lead to set up a counterpunch, proper use of the left jab, bobbing and weaving, infighting, timing and mobile footwork are among the lost boxing arts. These days an athlete with superior speed and size rules the roost because no one has the experience, training and knowhow to effectively counter those purely physical qualities.

It is right that Mayweather owns the “pound for pound best” title because in a pugilistic population lacking both seasoning and ring savvy, fighters with superior athletic prowess automatically rise to the top—and Floyd just happens to be the most physically gifted fighter. But at age 38 Floyd’s legs have lost their spring, his speed is a smidgen slower, and his endurance is not what it once was. Without the sophisticated skill set of a seasoned old pro to fall back on (think Archie Moore, Emile Griffith and Roberto Duran) Floyd, like Roy Jones Jr. before him, will soon be vulnerable against even those second rate opponents he used to chew up and spit out. Is Andre Berto that opponent? (They are scheduled to fight on September 12th). Again, Floyd has chosen wisely from the weakest of the herd. On paper a Berto victory looks nearly impossible. Once very promising, the 31 year old with a 30-3 record is now damaged goods because of steroid use and ill-advised weight training that have diminished his speed and punch. Nevertheless, against an aging fighter anything is possible and don’t think Floyd doesn’t know it. If he is unable score an early KO an attempt will be made to steal rounds and score points with occasional flurries. At this point in his career pacing is very important. Don’t be surprised if Floyd fails to impress.

SUMMING UP

There is no denying the fact that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is a very good fighter. His whippet speed and finely honed fistic instincts might have stymied some of the ring greats from boxing’s golden age—but not for long. They would have made the necessary adjustments. If Floyd was born 50 years earlier he might have developed the ring generalship and cleverness that is missing from his otherwise impressive repertoire. Those qualities would have been an absolute necessity if he were to compete successfully against the top fighters of the past. But even then Floyd’s success would not have been guaranteed in that fierce competitive jungle. What is certain is that without these added dimensions Floyd would not have been able to establish a legitimate claim to greatness.

Note: The reader is encouraged to read Mike Silver’s book “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” for additional comparisons and analyses between the best boxers of today and those of decades past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pender vs Hagler

Pender Had The Style To

Give The Marvelous One Trouble

But Could He Have Won?

By Bobby Franklin

The Boston area has produced three World Middleweight Champions. Johnny Wilson, who was originally from Harlem, Paul Pender from Brookline, and Marvelous Marvin Hagler from Brockton by way of New Jersey. Interestingly, two of these champions, Wilson and Hagler, were southpaws.

Pender Defeating Ray Robinson
Pender Defeating Ray Robinson

While watching clips of Paul Pender in action I started to think about how a matchup between these two local world champions would have played out. Hagler’s name is always included in any list of great middleweight champions, while Pender is remembered as a very good, but not great, champion. However, a boxer not being ranked on the all time great list does not mean he would not have posed problems for one of the best. It has been repeated over and over but is still true, styles make fights. Ken Norton is never ranked as an all time great, yet in their three fights he gave Muhammad Ali, the number one choice of many boxing experts, all he could handle. Many believe he deserved the decision in all of their match ups, not just the first one where he broke Ali’s jaw. If they fought a hundred times it would always be a tough fight for Ali. Why? Because Norton had a style that Ali just could not cope with.

…it is interesting to note that neither champion was ever beaten by the same opponent twice.

In comparing Pender and Hagler it is interesting to note that neither champion was ever beaten by the same opponent twice. In Hagler’s case, with the exception of Ray Leonard, he avenged every one of his losses.

Paul Pender
Paul Pender

Pender had a record of 48 bouts with 40 wins (20 Kos), 6 losses, and 2 draws. Paul was stopped on 3 occasions. He fought a total of 345 rounds.

Marvelous Marvin Hagler
Marvelous Marvin Hagler

Hagler’s record stands at 67 total bouts with 62 wins (52 Kos), 3 losses, and 2 draws. He had a total of 398 rounds fought in his career. Marvin was never stopped.

Pender fought most his fights in the 1950s, his pro career began in 1949 and ended in 1962. Hagler’s ran from 1973 until 1987.

Pender and Hagler would both enter the ring supremely confident.

So, what makes this an interesting fight? Well, first off, since this is all conjecture, let’s assume each contestant has a piece of a divided Middleweight Crown. Remember, that when Pender won the title from Sugar Ray Robinson the majority of governing bodies did not recognize it. In promoting the bout at the Boston Garden it would not only be built up as a championship match between two local fighters, but two local fighters with a claim to the title. The winner would walk away as the undisputed titleholder, great motivation for both of them. This would probably be the only time in history that the Boston Garden would be sold out for a boxing match.

Pender and Hagler would both enter the ring supremely confident. Marvin having taken out Thomas Hearns in one of the greatest fights of all time, and Paul having defeated the great Sugar Ray Robinson twice. Neither man would be intimidated by the other.

Now to their styles: Pender is thought of as a boxer, but he was really a boxer puncher. He moved fast on his feet, had quick hands, and was a master of the feint. He also had an excellent left hook that he would work off of his jab, sometimes throwing it immediately after landing a jab, and sometimes feinting a jab and moving in with the hook. Paul also had power in both hands.

Marvin is best known as a lethal puncher, but he could box as well. It was also very difficult to hit him with a clean shot. He kept his chin tucked down and had excellent head movement. Once he had an opponent hurt he would finish him off. Marvin was always in excellent shape and had a burning desire to win that never abated throughout his career.

Hagler Defeating Duran
Hagler Defeating Duran

The two Hagler fights that give us a clue to how Pender would have done against him are the Duran and Leonard bouts. Duran, like Pender, was a master at feinting, though he used more body feints then Paul. That feinting kept Marvin a bit on edge and made the fight competitive. He ended up winning a much closer decision then most experts expected.

Paul’s most effective weapons against Marvin would be his footwork, his left hook off a jab feint, and his follow up right hand

Leonard showed how movement could be a problem for Marvin. Of course, there was a lot more going on in that bout that I will not get into here, but it did show that a boxer who kept his cool, stuck to a plan, and fought in flurries could be a problem for Marvin.

Pender could do all of that. Paul’s most effective weapons against Marvin would be his footwork, his left hook off a jab feint, and his follow up right hand. He would be moving in and out, attacking and retreating, moving side to side. All of this would give Marvin a lot of trouble, but for how long?

While Paul would be frustrating Marvin, he most likely would not be able to get a clear shot off on Hagler’s chin. Hagler would start increasing the pressure and begin cutting the ring off on the Brookline native in the hope of cornering him and landing a barrage of punches in order to at least slow him down. This would be difficult, but not impossible to do as Pender was always thinking in there and did not tire.

I think this would have been a very interesting fight. Remember, I am talking about both of these champions meeting in their primes with the title at stake. It would also be a fifteen round match and both would be local favorites.

I am going to leave the outcome up to my readers, but I do believe this fight would have gone the distance and the fans would have gotten their moneys worth.

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Julius Caesar at the Trinity Rep

Beware the Ides of March,

But Have No Fear Of Buying A Ticket For This Production

Of Julius Caesar In Providence.

The other night I traveled south to Providence, Rhode Island to see the Trinity Rep’s production of Julius Caesar. This play kicks off their 2015-2016, and it is a great start.This version is set in contemporary times with the government rulers in business or military attire. The set conveys a somewhat decaying aura that fits with the turmoil that is to ensue. Director Tyler Dobrowsky also makes interesting use of a live video camera that projects certain parts of the play onto two walls giving us the flavor of the events being covered in this age of the 24 hour news cycle. There are also occasional news scrolls across the same walls.

The cast of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Trinity Rep Photo by Mark Turek
The cast of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Trinity Rep
Photo by Mark Turekto ensue.

The set conveys a somewhat decaying aura that fits with the turmoil that is to ensue.

A nice touch is the string quartet that is situated above the action but in full view of the audience. The music, by Polish composer Henryk Gorecki, is somber and influences the mood. My only quarrel with it is in the second act where it is a bit overdone as the mood has already descended and the audience does not need reminding of that fact.

Stephen Thorne’s Brutus is a perfect balance between the cold blooded conspirator, idealist, and a man who’s lust for power equals Caesar’s.

Caesar is played by Anne Scurria who does a wonderful job as a female but not feminine Caesar. I am not clear as to,or if, a message is being conveyed by having him played as a woman.  Ms Scurria is still called Julius and the pronouns referring to Caesar have all been changed to the femine. Calpurnia is renamed Calpurnius, the male version of the name, and is played by Mauro Huntman. Huntman reminds a bit of Al Bundy and you really can’t blame Caesar for not going to the senate on that fateful March day when faced with the choice of staying home with her husband who appears ready to spend the day in pajamas.  I am certain many will read much into this given that the current presidential election season has begun, but I really didn’t see any overt links to any of today’s politicians other than the fact Caesar is wearing a pantsuit.

Anne Scurria as Julius Caesar and Mauro Hantman as Calpurnius Photo: Mark Turek
Anne Scurria as Julius Caesar and Mauro Hantman as Calpurnius Photo: Mark Turek

Stephen Thorne’s Brutus is a perfect balance between the cold blooded conspirator, idealist, and a man who’s lust for power equals Caesar’s. While he may believe he is working for the greater good, and he does his best to convince himself, the people, and the audience, we find he is another manipulating politician.  It is a complicated role for an actor, but Mr. Thorne does a fine job getting all of these emotions across.

This Caesar, as bloody as any, also has a number of laughs. Fred Sullivan, Jr. as the hypocritical Casca is witty and sarcastic as he first takes the stage, though he has to repeatedly reach for liquid courage from the flask he keeps hidden.

 Marc Antony’s playing up to the press and mugging for the camera is very effective.

The funeral oration given by Joe Wilson, Jr.’s Marc Antony is very interesting. The live camera arrives on the scene to broadcast the speech, and Mr. Wilson does a marvelous job

Joe Wilson, Jr. as Marc Antony and Anne Scurria as Julius Caesar Photo by Mark Turek
Joe Wilson, Jr. as Marc Antony and Anne Scurria as Julius Caesar Photo by Mark Turek

of showing with his eye movements and turn of head how well the deep thinking Antony manipulates the crowd by turning what was expected to be a simple eulogy honoring his friend into a rallying cry for civil war.  Marc Antony’s playing up to the press and mugging for the camera is very effective and will certainly resonate in this age of sound bites.

 

It is impossible for the Trinity rep to put on a bad production of a Shakespeare play if Brian McEleney is in it. Having seen him in the Rep’s productions of Richard III and King Lear, I have to say he is one of the finest Shakesperaen actors gracing New England stages today. He does not disappoint as Cassius who at first is petty and manipulative as he convinces Brutus to conspire in the assassination of Caesar. Cassius redeems himself in Act II but it is too late. Mr. McEleney is a joy to watch as he practices his stage craft, and I could envision an evening of him doing a solo performance of the works of Shakespeare. He has a wonderful voice and exquisite timing.Brian McEleney as Cassius and Stephen Thorne as Brutus Photo by Mark Turek

 

Mr. McEleney is a joy to watch as he practices his stage craft

Some liberties were taken with this production, but they work. Particularly the closing scene, which is incredibly effective. I won’t spoil it for you.

I highly recommend this production even sans the togas. It is interesting, well played, staged, and directed as it shows us how ambition and the lust for power are timeless. Beware the Ides of March, but have no fear of buying a ticket for Julius Caesar in Providence.

Julius Caesar at the Trinity Rep playing through October 11th

201 Washington Street, Providence, RI, www.trinityrep.com, 401-351-4242

Directed by Tyler Dombrowsky. Set design by Michael McGarty. Costume design by Oliver Gajic. Lighting by John Ambrosone.

Cast:

Julius Caesar Anne Scurria*
Brutus Stephen Thorne*
Marc Antony Joe Wilson, Jr.*
Cassius Brian McEleney*
Portia RachaelWarren* Calpurnius/Octavius Mauro Hantman* Cicero Barbara Meek*

Casca/Titinius FredSullivan,Jr.*
Decius Brutus/Messalla Richard Donelly* Marullus/Metellus Cimber Timothy Kopacz Flavius/Trebonia Olivia Khoshatefeh Soothsayer/Lucilius GriffinSharps Pindarus GeorgeOlesky
Cinna/Cato Joshua Lomeli
Lucia TaraSullivan

Musicians:

Viola HannahRoss Violin ChaseSpruill Cello AdrienneTaylor Violin EthanWood

 

 

 

 

 

SpeakEasy Stage Presents NE Premiere Of appropriate

From September 12-October 10, 2015, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the New England Premiere of appropriate, the thrilling new drama about race and identity by acclaimed African-American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

A 2014 Obie Award-winner for Best New American Play, appropriate follows the estranged members of the Lafayette clan as they gather at their crumbling Arkansas plantation home to mourn the loss of their father and settle his estate.  While sifting through a lifetime of memories and junk, they make a gruesome discovery that forces them to examine their own lives and confront their family’s dark past.

appropriate will run for five weeks, from September 12 through October 10, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Jacobs-Jenkins has said in interviews that, when writing appropriate, he was inspired by and “appropriated” bits from iconic American Family Drama plays such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Buried Child, and August: Osage County.  By remixing and riffing on his source material, Jacobs-Jenkins uses a genre traditionally dominated by white American playwrights to comment on race relations in both America’s history and theatre.

Director M. Bevin O’Gara returns to SpeakEasy Stage to direct the New England premiere of appropriate. This is her fourth project for the company, having directed A Future Perfect, Tribes (Elliot Norton and IRNE Award, Best Production) and Clybourne Park. Bevin is the Associate Producer at the Huntington Theatre Company and a recipient of the Lois Roach Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Boston Theatre Community.

To bring the Lafayette family to vivid life, Ms. O’Gara has gathered an exceptional cast of Boston-based actors: Bryan T. Donovan, Katie Elinoff, Tamara Hickey, Melinda Lopez, Brendan O’Brien, Alex Pollock, Eliott Purcell, and Ashley Risteen.

   The design team includes Cristina Todesco (scenic), Tyler Kinney (costumes), Wen-Ling Liao (lighting), Arshan Gailus (sound), and Angie Jepson (fight choreography).

appropriate will run for five weeks, from September 12 through October 10, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under. For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .

Mayweather Goes To 49-0

Mayweather Goes To 49-0
Am I Supposed To Be Impressed? 
Comparisons To Marciano Are Ridiculous

With his recent decision victory over the very mediocre Andre Berto, Floyd Mayweather has improved his record to 49 wins with no losses. Many in the boxing world are now saying this puts Floyd on a par with Rocky Marciano who ended his career with a record of 49 and 0.

Today, boxing pundits discuss the sport more like it is baseball.

This comparison is just plain idiocy and I feel it sullies the name of Rocky Marciano to even discuss it. But, since so many so-called boxing experts seem convinced that Mayweather has done something earth shattering here, I feel I must chime in.

Former champs Fritzie Zivic and Henry Armstrong would have chased Floyd out of the ring.

Archie Moore vs Rocky Marciano
Archie Moore vs Rocky Marciano

Today, boxing pundits discuss the sport more like it is baseball. They use all kinds ofcrazystatistics to try to convince us that we are living in some golden age of boxing. They cite punch stats, the amount of consecutive rounds won by a fighter, and the most ridiculous of all, the number of titles a champion has won. Seeing that just about every fighter who has over a dozen fights manages to get crowned with some type of a title has only trivialized the whole concept of being a world champion. I have written on this subject before where I discussed how the heavyweight championship has lost any essence of prestige. This also goes for all of the other weight divisions.

 

Henry Armstrong vs Fritzie Zivic
Henry Armstrong vs Fritzie Zivic

As to this 49 and 0 business, Mayweather is a fighter with at most average talent whencompared to the days when boxing was an art. Former champs Fritzie Zivic and Henry Armstrong would have chased Floyd out of the ring. Emile Griffith and Luis Rodriguez would have toyed with him and made him look like an amateur. Curtis Cokes and Tony DeMarco would have destroyed him. Can you even imagine Mayweather putting up with the relentless pressure Carmen Basilio would have applied? Sugar Ray Robinson and Charley Burley would have surely been charged with attempting first-degree murder for even agreeing to fight him.

I could go on and on about the superior records of so many of the fighters of the past when boxing was an art, not the silly carnival it has become today.

Now we have this insane comparison between Floyd Mayweather and Rocky Marciano which is all based on the fact that in a period of almost 20 years Floyd has complied a record of 49 wins and no losses against hand picked opponents. The latest being Berto, a fighter who was not very good at his best and was three and three in his last six bouts.

Ezzard Charles vs Rocky Marciano
Ezzard Charles vs Rocky Marciano

Julio Cesar Chavez was 49 and 0 in just the first three years of his career and went on to have 87 straight victories without a loss. I don’t remember any comparison being made with Rocky Marciano then.

Rocky, unlike Floyd, also took on the top contenders when he was champion and never ducked anyone.

Rocky Marciano was a great fighter who compiled his record in eight years while fighting some of the greatest fighters of all time. What made Rocky’s record unique is the fact he was and still is the only heavyweight champion to retire without ever having lost a professional fight. Gene Tunney retried as the undefeated heavyweight champ but did have one loss on his record from earlier in his career.

Rocky, unlike Floyd, also took on the top contenders when he was champion and never ducked anyone. He took pride in being the champion and it showed in the way he performed both inside of the ring and out of it. He beat three former heavyweight champions, two of them twice. He stopped one of the all time greatest light heavyweight champions. Rocky had the heart, the determination, and the pride that is sorely lacking in fighters like Floyd Mayweather.

Those who insist on making these nutty comparisons have no respect for the rich history of the Art of Boxing. They are grasping at straws when they are making these ridiculous arguments.

Just the other day I read where a noted boxing historian said Roy Jones Jr will go down as

LaMotta vs Robinson
LaMotta vs Robinson

the greatest middleweight champion of all time. That means he would be better than Sugar Ray Robinson, Harry Greb, Jake LaMotta, Emile Griffith, and dozens of others. This is beyond belief.

The hucksters and con men who run boxing today are bamboozling the public into believing they are watching real talent in the ring, and they are having success selling this. They bring on commentators claiming to be “boxing experts” and have them spout all kinds of drivel in order to make it seem like boxing has some connection with the great sport it once was. This is all done to dumb down the average boxing fan. These people have no shame what so ever. It is more true now than ever before that there is a sucker born every moment, and they seem to gravitate towards boxing.

 

James Montgomery To Appear At Jonathan’s

Ogunquit on November 6th

James Montgomery
James Montgomery

When blues legend James Montgomery plays the harmonica, he “brings it on home”. Whether it’s recording with Kid Rock, sitting in with Gregg Allman, or fronting his hot band of thirty years, Montgomery plays with authority. While growing up in Detroit he learned first-hand from the masters – James Cotton, John Lee Hooker, and Jr. Wells – at the legendary “Chessmate.” Over the years, he’s carried on in the tradition and continues to be a vital presence in Blues as one of the most dynamic performers on the scene.

James Montgomery and his band will be playing live at Jonathan’s Ogunquit on Friday, November 6, 2015 at 8:00 p.m.

In 1970, while attending Boston University, Montgomery formed the James Montgomery Band. His inimitable (oh yeah, he majored in English) harmonica playing combined with his incredibly energetic live shows led to the band’s quick ascension on the New England music scene. Within two years, the James Montgomery band was among the hottest acts in Boston along with J. Geils and Aerosmith, and they were quickly signed to a multi-album deal with Capricorn Records.

Montgomery has toured with many major artists, including Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, the Allman Brothers, Steve Miller and others. He has jammed on stage with B.B.King, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Jr. Wells, James Cotton, Charlie Daniels, Bonnie Raitt, Greg Allman, Laverne Baker, Patti LaBelle, and Peter Wolf among others, including an impromptu session with Mick Jagger at New York’s “Trax”
Over the years Montgomery’s band has been a springboard for many musicians. Members of his band have in

cluded Billy Squire, Wayne Kramer (MC-5), Jeff Golub (Rod Stewart), Jim McCarty (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels), Nunzio Signore Bo Diddley), Jeff Pevar (Ray Charles Orchestra, Crosby, Stills & Nash), Bobby Chouinard (drummer with Ted Nugent, Squire and Robert Gordon), Jeff Levine (Joe Cocker), Aerosmith’s Tom Gambel, and many others.

Back by popular demand, James Montgomery has become a regular at Jonathan’s Ogunquit. Coming up in the afternoon, grabbing dinner at Jonathan’s, playing some music and staying over in Ogunquit…They love the set up and so do their fans!
The James Montgomery Band will be playing live on Friday, November 6th, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available on line at http://tickets.jonathansrestaurant.com Tickets start at $22.50.

For more information about the concert please visit Jonathan’s Website.

Jonathan’s Restaurant is located at 92 Bourne Lane, Ogunquit, Maine.

Music Review: Jonathan Edwards

At The Center

For The Arts In Natick

September 26th

An Evening To Soothe The Soul

 

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards

The program I was handed at the door as I entered the Center For The Arts In Natick read “In Concert, Jonathan Edwards”. I have seen Mr. Edwards perform on a number of occasions and I have never felt as if I was at a concert. Spending an evening with Jonathan is much more than that. Even though I am sitting in a performing arts venue I feel more like I have been invited into his home to share a night of music, stories, laughs, and warmth. Edwards has yet to disappoint me and the other night in Natick was no exception.

 

 

…there was never a dull moment.

From his opening song “Down In The Woods” until his closing encore two hours later with the Stephen Foster classic “Hard Times” there was never a dull moment. There were plenty of old favorites going back to his first album along with a nice taste from his latest and most personal work “Tomorrow’s Child” and many from in between.

 

Tomorrow's Child
Jonathan’s Latest Album “Tomorrow’s Child”

In two of his new songs we learn much about Jonathan. In the very touching “Jonny’s Come Home” Edwards talks about being given up for adoption shortly after his birth and of how he found his birth mother forty years later. It was a happy reunion. He and his 96 year old mother are still close. The song also tells of his own experience in giving up his daughter Brenda for adoption, “I never thought I’d had to do what was done to me.” They, too, reunited after years had passed.

 

If all of this is beginning to sound a bit sad, it isn’t at all. By listening to the songs and hearing Jonathan tell stories, and he is a wonderful storyteller, you understand why this was much more than a concert.

Edwards has yet to disappoint me and the other night in Natick was no exception.

Going back to his eponymous first album Mr. Edwards sang Emma, Sunshine, Don’t Cry Blue, and what is probably his best-known song Shanty. It is ironic that Shanty has become so well known seeing that it got no radio play when it first was released. The censors at the time had figured out what it meant “to get a good buzz on” and were not happy with it; however, the public loved it as did the audience in Natick putting their hands together upon hearing the first few notes on the mouth harp.

Jonathan is also terrific to listen to between songs. His stories are always so interesting, and he can be very funny. While struggling to get one of his guitars to rest in its stand he told it to stay put, he then quipped “The older we get the more inanimate objects need personalities.” And when introducing the song  Mole In The Ground he said “Now that is a title that really excites people.” The crowd loved it.

“The older we get the more inanimate objects need personalities.”

Gracie, from his new album, is a lovely song celebrating his second daughter. Grace is an accomplished musician in her own right and performs on occasion with her father. Talent definitely runs in the family. Sandy Girl is a foot tapping love song to the joy of Jon’s life and soon to be wife. I noticed that Sandy is a bit shy about having the song played in public, but it is also apparent how much in love she and Jonathan are.  Ain’t Got Time, Girl From the Canyon, Sailboat, The Beatles She Loves You, Evangeline, My Love Will Keep were also included in this wonderful evening.

Jon was accompanied by his “band” the extraordinary Tom Snow on keyboard.

 

Tom Snow
Tom’s Latest Album “Thomas Snow Friends”

Jon was accompanied by his “band” the extraordinary Tom Snow on grand piano, keyboard, and backup vocals. During Shanty they did a great dueling piano and guitar. They make it look easy and obviously love performing together. What a joy it is to see and hear such talent. These two elevate each other musically and get a great natural buzz playing together.

 

We are lucky to have Jonathan Edwards here in New England. He plays many nights, and if you haven’t yet seen him be sure to stop in the next time he is in your area. I can guarantee if you see him perform once you will go again and again. I got a good buzz on and didn’t even have to inhale.

For album information, concert dates, and lots of great information go to http://www.jonathanedwards.net

For info on Tom Snow and his album Tom Snow Friends go to http://tomsnow.com

Jonathan Edwards and Tom Snow Perform “Hard Times”

“Shanty” performed by Jonathan and Tom

The Real Rockys: A History of the Golden Age of Italian Americans in Boxing 1900-1955 by Rolando Vitale.

Reviewed by Mike Silver

You do not have to be Italian to enjoy The Real Rockys. In fact, you do not even have to be a boxing fan. Rolando Vitale has written a book that accurately describes a colorful and fascinating chapter of American immigrant history with emphasis on the tremendous contribution of Italian American boxers to the sport of boxing.

You do not have to be Italian to enjoy The Real Rockys. In fact, you do not even have to be a boxing fan.

The Real Rockys
The Real Rockys

Few boxing books have been so thoroughly researched and richly detailed. The author begins with a description of the origins of boxing that includes a historical overview of pugilistic activity in ancient Rome, continuing on to the Medieval and Renaissance period, and then to the large scale Italian immigration to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some of the best parts of the book involve stories of the boxers’ family life and how the privations and poverty of their childhood motivated the drive to become a professional boxer.

The author also includes a description of the inter-racial boxing rivalries that were once so much a part of the sport during its golden age from the 1910s to the 1950s.

Few boxing books have been so thoroughly researched and richly detailed.

But the icing on the cake of this highly informative and lively written book are the 35 separate Appendices—183 pages in all—that are a treasure trove of information available nowhere else. Here is just a sampling: A breakdown and analyses of the most prominent ethnic American groups (Irish, Jewish, Italian, African) in the world’s top ten rankings (as per Ring magazine’s monthly ratings) across all weight categories 1924-1955; The results of head to head contests between Italian American and rival ethnic American boxers listed in the world’s top ten rankings 1924-1955; The names of every Italian, Irish, Jewish and African American champion from 1900 to 1955; A complete list of the nearly 400 title fights involving Italian American boxers; The names of hundreds of prominent Italian American prizefighters who fought using Irish or Anglicized names; Every Italian American Golden Gloves and National AAU amateur champion from 1900 to 1955; Post boxing occupations of the 51 Italian American world champions 1900-55 (including their father’s occupations); Also included are biographies of 50 great Italian boxers and the author’s picks for the top 100 Italian boxers who did not win a title. That is just a sampling. OK, you get the picture. This is a book that is both a historical document and a reference guide. It will be appreciated and enjoyed by anyone interested in learning about a unique and colorful aspect of American immigrant history but also savored by the serious and casual boxing fan. “The Real Rockys” deserves an honored space on every fight fan’s book shelf.

Boxing historian Mike Silver is the author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science”

 

SpeakEasy Stage Presents Casa Valentina

New England Premiere Runs From October 24 to November 28th

From October 24 to November 28, 2015, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the New England Premiere of CASA VALENTINA, a hilarious, provocative, and touching new play about gender identity, self-acceptance, and the struggle to find the right pumps.

A 2014 Tony Award nominee for Best Play, CASA VALENTINA is the most recent work by Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein

Based on actual events, CASA VALENTINA takes place in 1962 at a Catskills resort where a group of heterosexual men secretly gather to dress and behave like women. Away from their families, in their beehives and brassieres, these men enjoy a carefree camaraderie of cocktails and McGuire Sisters. But when challenged to publicly reveal their female alter-egos in the pursuit of political acceptance, “the sorority” must decide whether freedom is worth the risk of ruin.

 

Casa Valentina
Casa Valentina

A 2014 Tony Award nominee for Best Play, CASA VALENTINA is the most recent work by Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein, whose credits include the books for the hit musicals Kinky Boots, Newsies, La Cage aux Folles, and A Catered Affair as well as the play Torch Song Trilogy. As an actor Mr. Fierstein is known worldwide for his performances in films like Mrs. Doubtfire and Independence Day, and his stage work in Hairspray, Fiddler on the Roof, La Cage aux Folles, and Torch Song Trilogy.

Director Scott Edmiston returns to SpeakEasy having previously directed the company’s productions of Far from Heaven; The History BoysThe Light in the PiazzaFive by Tenn; Other Desert CitiesNext FallIn the Next Room (or the vibrator play)RecklessThe WomenThe Last Sunday in June; and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. He has directed more than 60 productions across New England and is the recipient of SpeakEasy’s Outstanding Artist Award, three Elliot Norton Awards, two IRNE Awards, the StageSource Theatre Hero Award, and the Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence in Theatre. He is a Professor of the Practice and Chair of the Theatre Department at Northeastern University.

For this New England Premiere production, Edmiston has assembled an impressive cast of veteran Boston actors, including Timothy Crowe, Thomas Derrah, Kerry A. Dowling, Deb Martin, Greg Maraio, Will McGarrahan, Sean McGuirk, Robert Saoud, and Eddie Shields.

       The design team consists of Edmiston’s frequent collaborators: Janie E. Howland (scenic), Gail Astrid Buckley (costumes), Karen Perlow (lighting), and Dewey Dellay (sound).

CASA VALENTINA will run for six weeks, from October 24 to November 28, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.

For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com.

Stage Review: “Miss Penitentiary”

At The Boston Playwrights’ Theater

Reviewed by David Curcio

Laura Neubauer’s new play Miss Penitentiary at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre is a heavy-handed briefing on Feminism 101. As a crash course in women’s subjugation and objectification, its target audience seems to be those who cling to the beauty ideals found in magazines like In Shape or Penthouse, which is to say no one who would see this play in the first place.

In an unspecified time, a bleak prison holds an unspecified number of female inmates, portrayed here by five charismatic, likable actors. While Orange is the New Black has brought women’s prison out of the age of 70s exploitation films, there is something unsettling in our heroines’ incarceration, as if a sinister, Handmaid’s Tale-like patriarchy may be behind this. But the absence of men is palpable. The program informs us that the only crimes committed were being born female: “A prison of insecurities built by and for the women.” (Right off the bat this is a little more background reading than a play should require.)

 

Miss Penitentiary
Miss Penitentiary

As the prison’s annual beauty pageant approaches, one lucky winner will go free. Here is where the tropes of sexism, objectification and the commodity of beauty are forced upon the inmates (and, in turn, the audience). As the actors don masks, Greek chorus-like, and drone such phrases as “Our looks have an expiration” or (regarding new shoes), “Harden your feet and harden your heart,” we are reminded at every turn of the mundane, superficial trappings of Beauty.

On a stage comprised of a bare wooden floor with black tape fanning out to describe the prison bars’ shadows in receding one-point perspective, the older, lean, mean Mama Beast presides over the four other girls, some of whom are up for parole. We never learn where this eligibility comes from or why others are lifers, but then not much is clear here. The play opens as the women languidly scrub the floors (you almost expect them to burst into “It’s the Hard Knock Life”) and suddenly everyone is in a tizzy over the approaching pageant. Time to get pretty and, like cigarettes, lipstick, rub-on tans, and even body parts (e.g. teeth that have been knocked out in brawls) become a commodity. The pre-game competition is on.

The lingering question is just who the judges are. We’re all familiar to some extent with the standard format of a beauty contest, and our participants play to it well as vapid questions and advice rain down upon them in preparation from the chorus. There is the obligatory talent section, that half-assed acknowledgement of the mind behind the face, although here (and, we assume, in all pageants) the question is “But do you look good when you’re doing it?” along with the maxim to stay away from such un-sexy work as business and accounting. Sage advice for women’s continued subjugation in the workplace. An amalgamation of advertisements, expectations and disappointments is put in the bluntest of terms where the stakes are highest: if you want to win, you’d better know your place.

The inmate Fanny (played with humor and a tangible humanity by Caitlin Gjerdrum) is a lesbian, a drug addict, and illiterate, who begins taking reading lessons from her lover DD. As she prattles on about a divide within herself (queer/straight; drugged/sober) she hones into the revelation that her intellect may in fact save her in this battle centered on lipstick, hair wax, and “jelly tits.” It’s like an invisible hand emerges from the stage to whack the audience over the head with feminism’s most basic tenet.

So we leave knowing what we knew before: Naomi Wolf was right about the undue pressures of beauty placed upon women and that pageants are meaningless if you have to look good while showing off your “talents.” As the chorus warns “Be careful who you trust. You can trust us, but you probably shouldn’t,” the familiar, insidious message to stay pretty, pay attention to everything but trust no one (advertising, boyfriends, husbands, and especially other women) is reasserted. As this warning comes to fruition, the crown goes to Fanny, the least superficially feminine of the lot, who in turn passes it on to DD. Although women are looking out for each other and forced competition is rejected, the whole charade ultimately devolves into a massive catfight – over what it is unclear, for the pageant has ended. Perhaps competition is already heating up for next year.

The not-for-profit Maiden Phoenix company should be lauded for its efforts to bring women’s stories “in the hopes of breaking down stereotypes” to Boston, and I for one am excited to see more of their productions. But with Miss Penitentiary some of us might just prefer to sit with Fanny as she finds larger life messages in Shel Silverstein, ignoring the hollow messages from on high that remind her to eat half grapefruit each morning and repeat her (obviously pointless) daily affirmations.

Miss Penitentiary is directed by Alyce Householter and runs from Oct. 2nd through 17th at The Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. For more information visit maidenphoenix.org.

Why Boxing?

by Bobby Franklin

I have been around boxers all my life, and I’ve gotten to know hundreds of fighters and have spent quite a bit of time speaking with them, getting to know them, and making friendships with them. In the past couple of years as we have gotten older the conversations I have with them have become more reflective. One of my favorite topics is discussing what their motivation was for first stepping into a boxing gym. The answers vary, but I did seem to find a common theme among a number of them.

It is a violent world but also one of serenity.
Stillmans Gym New York
Stillmans Gym New York

Just about every other sport available to young men involves joining a team; Little League Baseball, Pop Warner Football, hockey, and so on. All, of these are good ways for youth to learn the lessons of working together, sharing responsibility, and being a part of something bigger than themselves. It also allows for the sharing in victories as well as failures. Sure, there are times when one player will get the glory for pulling out a victory for the team, or get the blame for blowing it (just ask Bill Buckner), but it still comes down to the team working together to make things happen. It is said over and over again that there is no “I” in team.

The emotions aroused, just as the sport itself, are primitive.

Boxing is very different, it is all about “I”. When a young man first walks into a boxing gym he knows he is not there to join a team. What he is going to have to do is confront himself. He is going to have to deal with his fears; his victories and his failures all on his own. If he losses a fight or even has a bad sparring session he will not be able to point the finger at a teammate. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are owned by the individual.

Alan Sillitoe wrote a book published in 1959 titled “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. I often think of how appropriate a similar title would be to describe a boxer; “The Loneliness of the Boxer”. When that bell rings and the lights go down and the boxer steps forward to face his opponent, there is no other sport that comes close to invoking the emotions that erupt within him. He moves forward with no team to look back on for help or support. He is in the ring with only two other people; his opponent who wants to knock him senseless and the referee who is on nobody’s side. This isn’t about moving the ball up the field or striking out a batter. This is comes down to the most basic of human instincts: survival.

A boxing gym is truly a paradoxical place.
5th Street Gym Miami
5th Street Gym Miami

Many of the guys I have talked to about their motives for taking up boxing told me they were shy kids who didn’t feel comfortable playing on a team. They felt insecure and wanted to face their fears. The boxing gym seemed like the best place to go for that. Just about every one of these former boxers have told me their lives were changed because of their experiences with boxing. That they learned more about themselves through the Manly Art of Self Defense than in any other activity they took part in.

A boxing gym is truly a paradoxical place. It is a venue where controlled violence is taught. the participants spend hours practicing moves and conditioning themselves so A may inflict head trauma on their opponents. It is a place where a young man will have to deal with his fear and his fight or flight response to it. Where he will inflict and feel pain.

But, the boxing gym is also oddly Zen like. Boxing forces a person to become self reflective, to look deep within himself, too confront his demons, and oddly enough, to find a certain inner peace. It is a violent world but also one of serenity. This may all sound a bit strange, but if you have been there you will know what I mean.

Stop The Presses! Boxer Wins Fight Using Left Jab!

by Bobby Franklin

Golovkin vs Lemieux
Golovkin vs Lemieux

The other night I witnessed further proof of just how far removed today’s boxing is from having any resemblance to the fine art it once was. It wasn’t so much the fight itself,though that did contribute greatly to my feelings, but more so to the reaction during and after.

The fight was the Gennady Golovkin vs David Lemieux Middleweight Title fight. I had debated whether or not to spend $50.00 (I had sworn never again to buy a pay per view fight) to view the bout as I do feel Golovkin is about the only fighter out there today who is worth watching. While contemplating my decision I watched some footage of Lemieux in action to see if I felt he would be at all competitive. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was certainly not going to be a match worthy of spending money on. Lemieux is a tough, strong kid with almost no boxing ability. Watching him in action I could immediately see he had learned what he knew from spending hours hitting the punch mitts.

I could immediately see he had learned what he knew from spending hours hitting the punch mitts.

He threw his punches from his waist up and had no sense of footwork what- so-ever. He tossed shots in a very predictable one-two and one-two-three manner while pausing in between to regain his balance. He obviously would have no chance against GGG.

Early the following morning I watched a replay of the fight. It was, as I expected, a very one-sided affair. Golovkin utilized a decent left jab to keep Lemieux at pay and to punish him. David was at a complete loss in being able to cope with the jab. He did not know how to slip it. He did not know how to parry it. It was as if he had never dealt with the jab before. It was like a foreign language to him.
Listening to the commentators, you would have thought Gennady had invented a new punch. They were in awe of his phenomenal jab. They kept rattling off the number he had thrown during each round. They also repeatedly commented on how this amazing punch was keeping Lemieux confused and unable to launch an offense. Yes! Gennady Golovkin was actually throwing left jabs. Just amazing!

The incredulity continued on social media. Fans were stunned by this display of boxing prowess. The dominant left jab was something most of them had never seen before. What was once the most basic and important punch in boxing was now being talked about as if it were a secret weapon delivered to the Earth by aliens from another planet with a vastly superior intelligence to us. Shock waves rippled throughout the Blog-a-sphere. Is Golovkin really one of us or some super being from a galaxy far away?

Back when boxing was actually being taught as the serious art it once was the left jab was the first punch taught to aspiring boxers. Students were shown how it was both an offensive and defensive punch. How it was the key to landing any other punch.

“Hey kid, if you can’t land the jab you, you can’t land any other punch.”

“Hey kid, if you can’t land the jab you, you can’t land any other punch.” was a common line heard in boxing gyms. Great contender Tony Shucco used to tell me, “Hit ‘em with the left, they like it. Then every once in a while toss a right so they don’t get bored.” “Stick and Move.”, “Pepper him with the left.”, “Pop that jab out there.”, were other lines you would hear over and over again back in the day.

On the flip side, young boxers were also taught how to slip and parry the jab. As great a punch as the jab could be for setting up an opponent, it could also be the opening your foe could use to counter you. Timing the jab and then throwing a right cross over it is a very effective maneuver. It takes a lot of practice, and not the type of practice you get hitting the foolish punch pads. Another skill is slipping outside the jab and hooking to the body. This is a move rarely if ever seen today.

Another lost move is feinting the jab and then turning it into a hook. This is the tactic that was employed so effectively by Billy Conn in his first fight with Joe Louis. It almost won him the title.

Jabs also come in many different varieties. There is the tapping jab where a fighter doesn’t hit his opponent terribly hard, but he hits him repeatedly and frustrates him by keeping him off balance with it. Then there is the stiff armed jab that was used so well by Light Heavyweight Champion Bob Foster. Foster would snap his jab up from his waist and punch right through his opponents. It was a brutal punch that busted up many of his challengers.

Wepner vs Liston
Wepner vs Liston

It’s funny, but as I was contemplating this column a friend sent me a clip of the Chuck Wepner vs Sonny Liston fight. We had talked a bit about this whole madness over GGG using the jab, and my friend told me to take a look at Wepner in his losing fight with Liston. Yes, Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder, the guy considered to have very few boxing skills was actually using a fairly effective left jab in this fight. It just goes to show that it wasn’t all that long ago that even the crudest boxers knew how to throw the jab. It would be interesting to see how Mr. Wepner’s jab would do against today’s unschooled heavyweights.

I am often criticized for pointing out the lack of boxing skills in today’s fighters. I don’t blame the boxers as they train hard, are in good shape, and are just following instructions. The problem lies in the fact that there are no good teachers out there. The techniques employed to develop these skills are not there either. Abel Sanchez, GGG’s trainer, appears to one of the only trainers left who has some sense of what skills a good boxer should have, and that is why Golovkin is such a standout. The fact that his use of the most basic punch in boxing is such big news only reinforces my opinion that boxing is a dying if not dead art.

Boxing’s Ten Greatest Quotes

 

by Mike Silver

No other sport has produced more memorable quotes or phrases than boxing. I am not referring to the many clever and colorful (and sometimes outrageous) statements uttered over the years by various boxing personalities. Mike Tyson’s obscene rants (obviously stated when he was off his meds) that included such gems as “I want to eat his children” or “I try to push the (nose) bone into the brain” do not qualify for this list. The winning quotes are those that have withstood the test of time and entered into the American lexicon. The following quotes fit these criteria. They have been used by journalists, politicians and people in all walks of life. Yet how many are aware that they emanate from the world of boxing? I’ve saved the best for last, so counting back from 10 to 1 here they are:

  1. “I Shoulda Stood In Bed”—Joe Jacobs (1935)

Joe Jacobs was the prototype of the fast talking cigar chomping fight manager.

Joe Jacobs with Max Schmeling
Joe Jacobs with Max Schmeling

Sportswriters loved him as he was always quick with a memorable quote delivered in a staccato New York accent. As described by author David Margolick, Jacobs was “the quintessential Broadway guy, a Damon Runyon character from whom even Damon Runyon, then writing a sports column for the Hearst newspapers, could pick up some pointers.” As a “Broadway guy” Joe invariably slept late but one of the few times he broke

with tradition was when he got out of a sickbed to attend the 1935 World Series between the Tigers and Cubs on a wet cold day in Detroit when the temperature was near freezing. When a reporter asked him about the experience he famously complained, “I shoulda stood in bed”, which is New Yorkese for “stayed in bed”. Shakespeare could not have said it any better.

Shakespeare could not have said it any better

9. “I’ll Moida Da Bum” – Tony Galento The squat 5’9’ 235 pound New Jerseyite with the sledgehammer left hook was one of the most colorful fighters of any era. “Two Ton” Tony was a crude beer guzzling brawler who often used these words to describe what he would do to a future opponent. He said it most

Tony Galento
Tony Galento

often when referring to heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who he challenged for the title in 1939. In an unusual fit of pique, Louis, angered by Tony’s incessant pre-fight trash talk, decided to punish him. Galento, a stubborn foe, did his best and even managed to drop Louis in the third round. After taking a short count Louis got up even angrier and battered Galento into a bloody hulk before knocking him out in the next round.

8. “We Wuz Robbed”—Joe Jacobs (1932)

Another gem from the irrepressible Joe Jacobs who regularly butchered the King’s English. He spoke the immortal words after heavyweight champion Max Schmeling (whom he managed) lost a controversial decision to Jack Sharkey.

7. “Only In America”—Don King (1975)

The phrase was appropriated by King in the early 70s. But a more accurate phrasing should be “Only in Boxing”. For only in the unregulated “red light district” of sports could a convicted killer and diabolically clever sociopath run roughshod over an entire sport and bring it down to his level.

  1. “The Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall”—Bob Fitzsimmons (1902)

The actual quote is: “The bigger they come the harder they fall.” It has been attributed to former heavyweight champion Robert Fitzsimmons in an interview in 1902, but it probably goes back farther than that. Fitzsimmons (heavyweight champion 1897-99) was one of the hardest punchers of all time. He weighed about 167 pounds in his prime and often beat heavier men, including a 300 pound opponent he flattened in the first round.

5.“Honey, I Forgot to Duck” Jack Dempsey (1926)

President Ronald Reagan was being wheeled into the operating room shortly after taking a bullet in the 1981 assassination attempt on his life. Still conscious, and amazingly maintaining his sense of humor, he looked up at his wife, Nancy, and told her: “Honey, I forgot to duck”. The President was referencing the line Jack Dempsey used to explain his defeat to his wife after he lost the heavyweight championship to Gene Tunney in 1926. Reagan was only 15 years old at the time but the phrase obviously made an impression on the young sports fan and future President of the United States.

4. “We Will Win Because We Are On God’s Side”—Joe Louis (1942)

Heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who had recently enlisted in the still segregated army, spoke these words at a March 1942 War Bond rally in front of 18,000 people in Madison

Joe Louis
Joe Louis

Square Garden. The great man’s words became a popular slogan and made its way into songs and posters.

3. “He Can Run But He Can’t Hide”—Joe Louis (1946)

Joe’s public comments were as compact and on target as his punches. He could say more in a few words than most people say in 100. On the eve of his rematch with Billy Conn a reporter asked Joe if his lighter and faster opponent’s speed would be a problem. Louis’s answer was prescient. He knocked Conn out in the eighth round.

2. “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee”—Cassius Clay (1963).

He did and he could!

  1. “I Coulda Been A Contender”—Marlon Brando (1954)

One of filmdom’s most famous lines. It was spoken by actor Marlon Brando in the classic

On The Waterfront
On The Waterfront

movie “On the Waterfront”. The words originated from an actual conversation screenwriter Budd Schulberg had with Roger Donoghue, a once promising welterweight who quit the ring after killing an opponent. Donoghue was hired to instruct Brando how to move and act like a former fighter. When Schulberg asked Donoghue if he could have been a champion, the fighter replied, “I don’t know, but I could have been a contender.”

Boxing historian Mike Silver is the author of The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science (McFarland Publishing, paperback 2014).


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Company of Men – Leonard Gardner’s Fat City

by David Curcio

Last month the redoubtable New York Review of Books reissued Leonard Gardner’s novel Fat City. Even for a publisher widely acknowledged as reviving out of print masterpieces and curiosities, this has been heralded as a major event by countless writers influenced by Gardner’s curt, direct style and his ability to suggest the inner workings of cyclical and tormented minds with a staggering economy of prose. He is likely counted as a “writer’s writer” for his ability to reveal his characters’ inner lives without the well-worn trope of endless internal monologues to which so many lesser writers fall prey.

Let us make no mistake: Fat City is not a boxing novel

Let us make no mistake: Fat City is not a boxing novel as so many capsule reviews would have us believe. Readers seeking the sweat of the gym, the blood of the ring, or corrupted promoters would do better to look to W.C. Heinz’s The Professional, Jack London’s The Game or, better still, the many great biographies of fighters in the canon of boxing literature. The subject of Fat City is regret and the self-fulfilling prophecy of failure; and of the horrid, wholly invented revelation among young men that the die of their life has been cast when it is only just beginning.

 

Fat City
Fat City

At the heart of the novel is Billy Tully, a twenty-nine year-old ex-fighter tormented by the belief that “he had given up his career too soon.” Broke, drunk, and abandoned by his wife, he fleetingly pins his hopes on a young fighter named Ernie Munger in order to revive his own life that he already believes “was coming to a close.” At The Lido Gym in Stockton, CA, Tully begins to train the young Munger. Ruben Luna, the gym’s paterfamilias and a genuinely altruistic individual, is the bright spot in this grey urban landscape, though even he is not without his demons as he (rightly) blames himself for the death of one of his fighters years before. After a day of training, the young Ernie, “bruised, fatigued and elated, felt he had joined the company of men.” We long for this three-way relationship to blossom.

And it is the relationships of men – with each other and with women – that give shape to this novel of the constant tension between union and isolation. Billy lives his life regretting every moment that he didn’t appreciate his wife. Ruben is married to a widow with children and, while he is happy (enough) in this union, his eyes still wander, and the fear of pregnancy dampens intimacy. Ernie – in all likelihood a virgin when we meet him – tries desperately to sleep with Faye, the woman he is dating on the eve of his first fight: “To appear in the ring tomorrow without ever having won this other battle seemed presumptuous and dangerous.” When he does manage to sleep with her in his car that night, the rain that follows serves as a pathetic fallacy with ominous overtones: the car won’t start, he goes knee-deep in mud to get it to move as Faye loudly voices her regret and to top it off, she is impregnated. Although Billy tells Ernie (who, to his immediate regret, marries Faye) “you never appreciate [marriage] until it’s gone,” their first night portends the oppressive feeling of being trapped that directly follows.

The narrative zooms in to focus on Billy and Ernie and then pulls back again to reveal a wider cast of characters and a microcosm of a city crawling with future has-beens: Ruben, his hopeful amateurs, and Ernie’s Mexican opponent Arcadio Lucero. These men feel to us like life’s losers because they have already convinced themselves that they are. Working the fields picking cherries with the migrants, the drunks, the derelicts and addicts, they suffer from feelings that a life without meaning is to not exist at all. With nothing but time on their hands, fact and fantasy blur until all that’s left are memories, as when Billy bemoans being left by his wife, or drunkenly recounts his heroics in the ring despite having ultimately lost. But only in the ring can these men prove to themselves that they are alive. This, however, is a luxury difficult to attain, as we learn from the broke, violently ill Arcadio Lucero as he travels north to fight Ernie, and who fights because it is the only thing he knows how to do. So just what does a man need to do to prove to himself that he’s alive? To the men of Fat City, life exists solely in the past: in fights that were fought and are now forgotten; in happy times before the wife walked out; in days of what now feel like freedom before Faye became pregnant; in a life without guilt before the fighter was killed. They find redemption in helping others or solace in benders spent in squalid hotels. Ernie, now resigned to an unhappy marriage, is too young to throw in the towel, and so hinges his small hopes on a future in the ring.

As Ruben brings four protégés to and from a fight, there follows a lengthy, elegiac passage in which a young fighter named Wes, kayoed in the first round, reflects upon his fate: “…he should have known all along that he was nothing. Boxers were men in other towns, in big cities far from this car parked in the darkness alongside the highway between fields of vegetables.” The contrast of a dark night in the middle of nowhere with the idealized fantasy of a brightly-lit arena filled with cheering crowds and urban sophisticates exemplifies Gardner’s ability to conjure the thoughts associated with the sinking feeling that we have been put in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, and that this cosmic error has already destroyed any meaning life may have once held.

Stage Review: Casa Valentina

Life Is Never Simple

by Bobby Franklin

Thomas Derrah and Kerry A. Dowling Photo Credit: Glenn Perry
Thomas Derrah and Kerry A. Dowling
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

In the early 1960s small groups of heterosexual men would spend weekends at a bungalow camp in the Catskills called Casa Susanna. While there they would dress and act as women. They were not there to have sex parties, but rather to explore and experience their feminine inner selves and to be in an atmosphere where they felt safe and relaxed. A few years ago a collection of photographs from this retreat were discovered at a flea market and later published in a book. Playwright Harvey Fierstein was approached about making a play based on the happenings at Casa Susanna. He at first refused, but after looking further into the subject decided to move ahead with the project. It is fortunate he did and the result, Casa Valentina is now playing at the SpeakEasy Stage in Boston.

Okay, I can see some of my readers rolling their eyes and saying this has got to be too weird. Why would I spend money to see two hours of drag queens prancing around a stage? Well, I’ll tell you why.

First off this is a very funny play. I don’t remember seeing a play or movie where I wanted to remember so many one-liners since I last saw a Marx Brother’s movie. A number of them are from Oscar Wilde, but most are from the pen of Mr. Fierstein, and they are very, very funny.

While you are laughing you will also begin to see a very interesting story unfold filled with tension and a message of how almost nothing in life is simply black and white. The men who spend time at Casa Valentina are not drag queens.

The men who spend time at Casa Valentina are not drag queens.

The resort is run by Rita and George who are married. George, played by the wonderful Thomas Derrah, also spends time in his female persona Valentina. Kerry A. Dowling plays the part of Rita, a wig designer. The two met at her shop and instantly hit it off and married soon after. George’s dream was to open a place where cross dressing men could spend time together. They opened Casa Valentina in a run down bungalow across the street from a nudist camp in upstate New York.

They play is set in June of 1962 when a small group of men gather to dress and share time together. Jonthan (Greg Maraio) is a newcomer and it is also his first time going public with his other self Miranda. He is very nervous and arrives for dinner looking frumpy and disheveled. The others immediately accept the challenge to give him a makeover and the results are astounding.

Eddie Shields, Thomas Derrah, Robert Saoud Photo Credit: Glenn Perry
Eddie Shields, Thomas Derrah, Robert Saoud
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Things turn serious when Charlotte (Will McGarrahan) calls a meeting of the group and tries to convince them to go public with their lifestyle. She has in the past been arrested for what at the time was considered lewd behavior and is defiant. She also publishes a magazine on the subject of cross dressing . Charlotte and Valentina believe it is important for the public to know they are not “faggots”, and are really just normal men doing something they enjoy.

It is interesting that strong feelings of homophobia exist among some of the group

It is interesting that a fairly strong expression of homophobia exists among some of the group who want to exclude gays from being any part of their world. Charlotte tells the others that by going public they will open the door to the day when cross dressing will become as accepted as smoking in public while homosexuals are still hiding in the shadows. We can see how that all worked out.

Most in the group are not at all comfortable with having their names put out publicly, and with good reason. Most are married with families and have jobs. In the early 60s such a revelation would certainly be devastating for them. Given that context,  Charlotte’s request seems quite unreasonable. There is also much disagreement about the banning of gays. Terry (Sean McGuirk) who is one of the older members of the group tells of how she has been thankful for having gay friends because they are accepting of her, and she will in no way turn on them.

To further complicate matters, there is the issue of some pornographic photos that were addressed to George/Valentina but were confiscated by the postal authorities. We come to learn that these photos were meant for Amy (Timothy Crowe), a judge nearing retirement. Charlotte uses this information in an attempt to blackmail the judge and things then explode.

It is very interesting to observe “outsiders” debating how to be accepted by society while at the same time excluding and belittling others who have been shunned and persecuted. It shows that even those who are victims of hate are also very capable of being filled with hate themselves and hurting others.

The scene I found most disturbing is when the Judge’s daughter Eleanor (Deb Martin) arrives at Casa Valentina to retrieve her father’s clothing and wallet. The Judge has been taken to the hospital after realizing his private life was now going to be exposed. She is extremely angry and tears into Rita and George over the pain she and her family have suffered over the years because of her father’s behavior. Ms Martin does a wonderful job in conveying the pent up anger Eleanor is now unleashing, though Rita and George seem completed unaffected by it. They stand there emotionless through it all. Their Narcissism shields them from any feelings of empathy towards Eleanor.

Their Narcissism shields them from any feelings of empathy towards Eleanor.

There is so much more in this excellent play. Direction by Scott Edmiston is top shelf. Costumes, lighting, and set design are also terrific.

I highly recommend Casa Valentina. The one liners are worth the price of admission, but you will get much more than that from this thought provoking play.

Casa Valentina

The SpeakEasy Stage Company

Playing at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion

527 Tremont Street, Boston

Through November 28th

617.933.8600

www.SpeakEasyStage.com

 

 

 

Stage Noir Comes To Hartford

Review: Rear Window at the Hartford Stage

by Bobby Franklin

Hal (Kevin Bacon), Thorwald (Robert Stanton), Mrs. Thorwald (Melinda Page Hamilton)
Hal (Kevin Bacon), Thorwald (Robert Stanton), Mrs. Thorwald (Melinda Page Hamilton)

Rear Window, now playing a sold out run at the Hartford Stage is not an adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie. This version has been adapted for the stage by Keith Reddin from the original story by Cornell Woolrich. The leading chararcter, Hal Jeffries, played by Kevin Bacon, is much darker than the one in the movie. He is an alcoholic who is dealing with many demons that at times lend a dreamlike quality to the play.

I doubt there are many of you who do not know the story, so I will not go into detail other than to describe some of the differences. Instead of a beautiful girlfriend, Hal has Sam, a handsome young African American man who met Jeffries in a bar, though Hal claims not to remember the meeting. The homicide detective is now Lt. Boyne, a homophonic racist who immediately has it in for Sam. The back and forth between the two is not pleasant to watch.

Robert Stanton does a marvelous job of playing Thorwald, the man Hal believes has murdered his wife. He is a milquetoast guy married to an alcoholic woman in a relationship that has no chance of improving.

Sam (McKinley Belcher III) and Hal (Kevin Bacon)
Sam (McKinley Belcher III) and Hal (Kevin Bacon)

The actors in this production are all great, and there is no doubt it sold out before its first performance because of Kevin Bacon. But it is unfair to say this is a hit because of the big name on the marquee. Yes, Mr. Bacon is fantastic in the role, hobbling about on crutches, maneuvering around his flat in a wheelchair, and deducing that a crime has been committed all while he is either drunk or hung-over. The sexual tension between Hal and Sam is also slightly ambivalent as Jeffries has dreams of his former wife whom he confuses with the murdered Mrs. Thorwald, but there is no doubt where his desires truly lie.

The script by Keith Reddin, direction by Darko Tresnjak, and the amazing sets all stand on their own as reasons to see Rear Window.

The Hartford has made Film Noir into Stage Noir

The Hartford has made Film Noir into Stage Noir and the darkness and sultry moods play as well live as on the big screen. Seeing a mystery while already knowing the outcome, or at least thinking I did, is something I thought think would spoil the whole story, but midway through I was not sure I was going to see the same ending as in the movie. This had me moving more to the edge of my seat as the story progressed.

Thorwald (Robert Stanton)
Thorwald (Robert Stanton)

Now to the sets; I have been very impressed in the past by the extraordinary job the team at the Hartford Stage has done, but in this case they have far surpassed even their own high standards. Alexander Dodge has designed a stage that in just a couple of seconds transforms from Jeffries living room to a view into the courtyard where he can see into the windows of his neighbors. Walls disappear and reappear, rooms spin around so they can be seen into and then are neatly tucked back into place. It is just amazing to see. Lighting by York Kennedy and sound by Jane Shaw add so much to the mood of that hot August night in 1947 that I wanted to put my face in front of the one fan in Hal’s apartment to cool myself off. The sound and lights of the train passing outside the window add to the feel of living in a New York City tenement in the days before air conditioning was a household item. Looking at the side of the building with the occupants searching for ways to cool off reminded me of the George Bellows’ painting Cliff Dwellers.

My readers who are fight fans will appreciate how this story fits so well on a stage just as boxing is perfect for the television screen.

This run is sold out and I don’t know if it will move on to another theater or have any performances added at the Hartford. I would urge my readers to sign up to the Hartford Stage mailing list in order to have a chance at any tickets that become available.

Rear Window
Playing at The Hartford Stage
Through November 15th
www.hartfordstage.org
860-527-5151

White Christmas the Musical

Broadway’s Jeffry Denman and Joey Sorge to Star in the Ogunquit Playhouse Production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas the Musical on Stage at the Historic Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH

Two Broadway veterans are slated to star in the upcoming Ogunquit Playhouse production of the beloved holiday classic White Christmas at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, December 9 to 20. Jeffry Denman will reprise his role as Phil Davis and Joey Sorge will play Bob Wallace in this heartwarming musical adaptation that features the book by David Ives and Paul Blake and seventeen Irving Berlin songs including “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean” and the perennial favorite, “White Christmas.”  The story follows the two World War II veterans whose successful song-and-dance act finds them following two beautiful singing sisters to Vermont in search of romance and to put on a Christmas show –but, will there be snow?

Jeffrey Denman
Jeffrey Denman

Jeffry Denman played Phil Davis in the world premiere, cast recording and original Broadway (Astaire Award nomination) casts of White Christmas and won an IRNE Award in 2007 for the Boston production. An accomplished director and choreographer as well, Jeffry choreographed the Ogunquit Playhouse productions of The Music Man and West Side Story and directed and choreographed Damn Yankees. On Broadway: The ProducersCatsDreamHow To Succeed. Encores: Face the Music, Of Thee I Sing. Off Broadway: YANK! (Drama Desk, Lortel, Callaway noms), PassionChildren of a Lesser GodThe Holiday Guys. TV/Film: Erotic Fire of the Unattainable, Law & Order, Nurse Jackie, PBS Great Performances. Regional: Kid Victory (Signature), Crazy for YouSpamalot (Ogunquit), Singin in the Rain (MUNY), Into the Woods (Baltimore Center Stage, Sacramento Music Circus).

Joey Sorge
Joey Sorge

Starring as Bob Wallace is Joey Sorge who recently played the lead in the Ogunquit production of Nice Work If You Can Get It and was part of its original Broadway cast with Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara. On Broadway he also appeared in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, The Drowsy Chaperone, Thoroughly Modern Millie and as Young Buddy in the 2001 revival of Follies. Sorge also starred in the Ogunquit Playhouse productions of Singin’ in the Rain and The Drowsy Chaperone. Off-Broadway: Sondheims’ Saturday Night (Second Stage) and Summer of ’42 (Variety Arts). National Tours include: Lord Evelyn Oakleigh in Anything Goes, the iconic Fonz in Happy Days – A New Musical, and Jimmy Smith in Thoroughly Modern Millie. He has been seen regionally in Victor, Victoria at TUTS, Animal Crackers at Williamstown, Grease at Papermill, Radio Girl at Goodspeed, and Marty at Huntington Theatre. His film credits include: New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Contradictions of The Heart, Providence, and Audrey. TV/Web:  “The Knick”, “Alphabet Boys,” “Person of Interest,” “Numb3rs,” “Commander in Chief” and the remake of “Night Stalker.”

Tickets are on sale now at The Music Hall by calling 603-436-2400, online at www.themusichall.org or visiting the box office at 28 Chestnut St, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Two Ton Tony Was No Bum

 

by Bobby Franklin

Had Louis On The Canvas, But That Was Not His Best Round

Classy Tony Galento
Classy Tony Galento

Two Ton Tony Galento was the only opponent Joe Louis ever really disliked. When Joe fought Max Schmeling his fury was based on his wanting to avenge his loss as he felt he would not be the true champion until he defeated the German who had previously knocked him out. He was also was representing the United States in a symbolic battle against the evils of Nazis Germany.

With Galento it was a very different case. Tony had repeatedly made disparaging comments about Joe, his most famous being “I’ll moider da bum.” The Brown Bomber did not take kindly to being called a bum. At one point during training Joe asked a reporter, “Why that little fat man keep calling me a bum?”

Today’s fans may not see what the big deal was in such comments being made, but in the era of Joe Louis fighters, showed respect for one another.

in the era of Joe Louis fighters, showed respect for one another.

Sure, there were plenty of colorful characters around back then, but they rarely launched personal attacks on their opponents. Their was a mutual respect that existed among those in the sport, and Louis felt Galento had stepped way over the line. This was the only time Joe entered the ring where he was angry at his opponent. He said he wanted to punish him. Even years later when both Joe and Tony appeared together on Curt Gowdy’s program “The Way It Was” to watch clips of and discuss the fight you could see Louis still didn’t care for Galento. He said on the program that he wanted to carry the New Jersey brawler for ten rounds before knocking him out in order to inflict damage on him first. So, why didn’t he?

Galento had a big mouth and was obnoxious in his comments before the bout, but he had the punch, heart, and skill, yes, I said skill, to give the champion a fight. Tony was  rated the number one contender for the title by Ring Magazine, and he had earned his shot with a winning streak of eleven straight fights against top contenders. Make no mistake about it, while he hardly looked the part of a great boxer with his rotund figure, he was very talented at fighting out of a crouch and counterpunching. He also had a lethal left hook that was instrumental in his scoring knockouts in 57 of his 80 victories. Tony was also one of the dirtiest fighters to enter the ring. He was well schooled in using his head, elbows, and thumbs.

On June 28, 1939 Joe and Tony entered the ring at Yankee Stadium. In front of a crowd of 34,852 they received their prefight instructions from referee Arthur Donovan. Even at this point Tony couldn’t resist acting up. There was a problem with the amount of Vaseline Galento had on his face, so the referee had his handlers wipe it off. Tony then reached over and rubbed his hand over Joe’s head. This only added to the champion’s anger.

At the bell for round one Galento came out of his corner in a very low crouch and was leaning to his right in order to be on the outside of Joe’s left jab. By doing this he was putting himself into Joe’s blind spot. It was a very good tactic as Joe was known to have some difficulty  with fighters who fought out of a crouch. Tony slipped the jab and landed some decent left hooks to Joe’s body. Joe was making the mistake of punching down at Tony instead of bending at the knees to get on an even plane with the challenger. At one point Galento slipped Louis’s jab and landed a solid left hook to Joe’s chin hurting him and driving the champion to the ropes. Joe looked a bit hurt but maintained his composure. Galento, emboldened by what he had accomplished, went after the champion and got a bit wild. The first round went to the challenger, and the crowd was very excited by what they had just witnessed.

Louis Drops Galento
Louis Drops Galento

In round two Tony was not crouching down as much and Joe was now bending his knees and finding the range. Tony had abandoned what was a good strategy and was now just bulling his way forward. He was also using his head and elbows on the inside. Joe dropped the challenger with a beautiful right left combination that would have knocked out many another man, but Tony was up at the count of two and still full of fight.

Galento Puts Louis On The Canvas
Galento Puts Louis On The Canvas

Round three was interesting for one reason. By now Galento had completely abandoned his crouch and counterpunch tactics and was standing straight up in front of the champion while throwing wild punches. He was hoping to get lucky and land the big one. Mid round, while Louis was throwing a left hook to the body, Tony landed a left hook to Louis’s head that caught the champion off balance. Louis went down more embarrassed than hurt and was up almost immediately. For the rest of the round he pummeled Tony. While this is the punch Galento will be remembered for, it was not nearly as damaging, other than to Joe’s pride, than the hook he landed in the first round. The hook in the opening round was an excellent counter punch that was executed with great skill. The knockdown blow was more of a lucky punch.

The End For Galento
The End For Galento

As the bell rang for round four it was now Joe’s turn to abandon his fight plan. No, he would not get wild, but he no longer was going to punish Tony for ten rounds before knocking him out. He was now going for the kill. I believe it was Max Baer who once said “Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”

“Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”

Well, Joe had decided it was time to go home, and if Galento had any sense he would have been scared, but Two Ton Tony came out ready to go down fighting. He took a horrific beating during the two minutes and twenty-nine seconds that elapsed until Arthur Donovan stepped in to stopped the carnage. Galento was beaten to a pulp and would receive forty stitches to his face after the bout.

In the post fight interview Joe Louis did not gloat. As much as he disliked Tony Galento, he praised his ability and called him a great fighter. Joe Louis was always the definition of class.

This fight will always be remembered for the fact that Galento dropped the great Joe Louis, but Tony’s greatest moments came in the first round when he had the champion hurt.


TEDDY’S MASTER CLASS

BY

MIKE SILVER

A note of thanks to the daughter of Teddy Atlas for convincing her father to get back to doing what he does best—teaching boxers the (lost) art of boxing. Seven weeks ago Atlas took over the training of Timothy Bradley and the results were nothing short of phenomenal. Bradley said it best in a pre-fight interview; “I finally have a real trainer”. Indeed! Bradley’s ninth round stoppage of Brandon Rios this past Saturday night had “old school” written all over it, complements of “old school” trainer Teddy Atlas. Bradley also stated that Atlas’s schooling taught him more about technique and strategy than ever before. Good for him—and good for boxing.

Bradley Atlas 1Atlas’s job was not easy. He had a willing student in Bradley but also a fighter who had been worn out in fights where the strategy was simply to outwork the opponent. Bradley had also made the mistake in the past of exercising with heavy weights to increase his strength and punching power. Of course this misguided approach did just the opposite by making him muscle bound and robbing him of his punching power. Bradley’s overdeveloped pecs and lats are very impressive if he was entered into a body building contest but he can barely dent an egg with his feather like punches. Nevertheless, Atlas recognized a desire by Bradley to do whatever was necessary to turn his boxing career around and was willing to work with him and achieve the desired results.

Trainers take note: Watch the tape of the Bradley vs. Rios fight over and over, including especially the instruction given to Bradley between rounds. What a delight to watch a boxer actually attempt to think and avoid punishment by using tried and true methods of the type that had been effective for almost a century but are virtually forgotten today.

Bradley Atlas 2Rios could have tried to counter Bradley’s hit and move strategy but he simply had no answers—and neither did his clueless corner men. Rios kept coming straight ahead and made no attempt at all to cut off the ring, or duck Bradley’s counter punches, or throw more jabs in an attempt to disrupt his rhythm. The pitiful instructions (or lack thereof) he received was typical. In between rounds the microphone picked up Rios’s trainers telling him to “throw more punches…throw faster punches” and of course the oft heard expletive laced “what the f…k are you waiting for!….c’mon go for it!” That’s it. No strategic advice was given at any time. Not even at the basest level. Why are such people even allowed into the corner? Why isn’t there some sort of licensing procedure to make sure trainers have at least a minimum of boxing knowledge. It is so disheartening to see how dumbed down this sport has become.

Teddy Timothy CornerCompare the above to a sampling of Atlas’s instructions to Bradley between rounds: “Control the outside and don’t stay in one place too long…use your jab and move to your left and then move to the right and set something up…catch him as he comes in and don’t drop your hands…move off to the side after landing your jab..” Atlas kept reminding Bradley to “control the geography of the ring” (meaning use footwork). Obviously these basic boxing moves had been practiced over and over throughout their training sessions. Another move involved Bradley stepping to his left after landing a jab and quickly landing a left uppercut to Rios’s midsection. His incessant body punching eventually brought Rios to his knees in the ninth round and he was counted out. (If Bradley had more power this fight would have ended much earlier). It is worth noting that over 50% of Bradley’s punches were aimed at Rios’s mid-section. This was a common practice among the top fighters of decades past but is virtually unheard of today.

Over the past 20 years, for a variety of reasons, (see the author’s book “The Arc of Boxing” for a full explanation) boxing technique has fallen to its lowest level in over 100 years. Defense has become a lost art along with so much else that is missing at virtually every level. That is why Bradley’s new evasive style, mobile footwork, body punches and his effective and intelligent use of the left jab was like a dose of fresh air—at least to those who can recognize such things.
Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, but are we seeing a trend developing here? Last month we saw two rare demonstrations of some old school boxing skills. First flyweight champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez gave a wonderful display of effective aggression while chalking up his 44th straight victory. On the same night Gennady Golovkin, the true middleweight champion, showed how effective a left jab can be when used properly to set up power punches and eventually wear down a tough and determined opponent. (see article on this site: “Stop The Presses! Boxer Wins Fight Using Left Jab!”

Years ago these talented boxers would be considered excellent prospects because they would be competing in a much tougher environment, but today their use of solid but basic boxing techniques makes them stand head and shoulders above a very mediocre field of contenders.
Let’s hope that other boxers and trainers begin to understand that boxing is an art—the art of self-defense. This will not only result in more interesting matches but will make a dangerous sport safer. Two boxers moving toward each other like two trucks in a mindless demolition derby is not boxing.

Mike Silver is the author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” (2014, paperback, McFarland Publishers).

But Can He Take A Punch?

A Young Cassius Clay Answered

That Question Early In His Career

by Bobby Franklin

When Cassius Clay exploded on the professional boxing scene after winning a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic games in 1960, the public knew they were witnessing the rise of not just a very talented young boxer but also seeing a figure who was going to make boxing interesting and colorful again. This was in his pre Black Muslim days when he was known for his braggadocio rather than his political views.

Young Cassius had watched how professional wrestlers would attract crowds by putting on a show before the matches. They would brag about what they were going to do to their opponents, and in the case of one who had a particular influence on Clay, Gorgeous George would talk about how pretty he was. Cassius, with his outgoing personality, good looks, and gift of gab was a natural for this approach. It also didn’t hurt that he was an extremely talented boxer.

Of course, this bragging didn’t sit well with all boxing fans. Some did, as he knew would happen, pay to see him get beaten. They felt the loudmouth deserved to have his big trap shut by a knockout blow.

Another thing that irked those rooting against him was the fact that he moved fast and was very difficult to hit with a solid shot. Cassius played on that as well by saying

“I am just too pretty to be hit.”

Those who wanted to see him take a licking came to believe that if he was finally tagged he would not be able to take a punch, and that he really wasn’t tough enough to deal with being in a serious slugfest. They questioned his heart. If only an opponent could reach his jaw this big mouth would be finished. He was just talk but would never be able to back it up in a real fight.

This question about Clay’s ability to take a punch lingered for years, but he proved his mettle in only his 11th fight against the hard punching Sonny Banks. Not only could he take a punch, but he also showed he could fire right back when hurt.

Sonny Banks came into the fight with a record of 10 wins and 2 losses with 10 his wins coming via knockout. He was another young prospect and, even this early in his career, was known for his punching power.

The two met on February 10, 1962 at Madison Square Garden in a ten round main event. Clay had predicted he would stop Banks in the 4th round, but the fight almost ended much earlier then that and not in Clay’s favor.

In the opening round Cassius came out dancing. He was circling Banks and throwing jabs. As was his usual form, Clay had his hands down and was avoiding punches by moving his head and staying mobile.

Banks Drops Clay
Banks Drops Clay

Not long into the round Cassius back Sonny into a corner. Clay squared up with Banks and Banks fired a solid left hook that caught Clay flush on the jaw dropping him. It was a sold punch and Cassius went down on his back. It should also be mentioned that shortly before the hook was landed Clay was also on the receiving end of a solid right hand.

It can be argued that Clay went down because he was somewhat off balance when he was hit, but make no mistake about it, this was a hard left hook to the jaw.

So, how did Clay react now that he had finally been tagged? He got to his feet at the count of two. He took the mandatory 8 count and then he changed his style. There was no quit in him at all, quite the contrary. When the action resumed Clay steadied down and began throwing very hard shots at Banks. Sure, he was still circling, but he was more flat footed now and throwing hard punches with great accuracy. He was also throwing them with tremendous speed. He was angry that he had been decked and was now taking that anger out on Sonny.

Clay Stops Banks
Clay Stops Banks

In the second round he dropped Banks with a lightening fast right/left combination. He then battered him constantly and referee Ruby Goldstein was about to step in and stop the bout when the bell rang ending the third round. The doctor was called in to examine Banks before the start of the fourth and allowed the fight to continue. It didn’t last much longer as Cassius unloaded a fusillade of punches causing Goldstein to jump in and stop the fight at 26 seconds of the round.

For those paying attention at the time, they would have seen a number of things in young Cassius that had champion written all over them. He was able to take a great shot to the chin and survive it, and not only survive but not even be flustered by it. His first thought when hitting the canvas was to get right back up again and get back into the fight. He also showed the heart of a champion by fighting back with an intense fury. He adapted his game plan and would not be hit another good shot for the remainder of the bout.

Any talk about Cassius Clay’s heart and ability to take a punch should have ended that night in Madison Square Garden, but many were so blinded by their dislike of the brash youngster they would not give him the credit he earned in that fight. He would go on to prove the critics wrong time and time again.

Looking back on that February night in 1962 I would say Cassius answered his critics and the smart money should have been on him after that.

The President Boxer

The President Boxer

If there ever was an individual with the wherewithal, honesty and courage to clean up professional boxing that man would have been Theodore Roosevelt.

by Mike Silver

No U.S. President, past or present, was more associated with the “sweet science” than Theodore Roosevelt.

No U.S. President, past or present, was more associated with the “sweet science” than Theodore Roosevelt. It was not by accident that T.R. developed his interest in boxing. In Roosevelt’s formative years young men from the best families practiced the manly art. In the late 1800s amateur boxing “in gentlemanly fashion” (fought with gloves under Queensberry rules) was included in the athletic programs of Harvard and Yale. (Both institutions were among a handful of colleges that offered boxing instruction to their students). The future President boxed as a 135 pound lightweight while attending Harvard. He entered several tournaments, and though only moderately successful, his courage and tenacity was admired by his classmates.

Teddy Roosevelt at Harvard
Teddy Roosevelt at Harvard

During one tournament match he was hit hard by his opponent just after the referee yelled “time”. The crowd hissed and shouted “Foul, foul!” Roosevelt is supposed to have cried out “Hush! He didn’t hear.” Years later, during his campaign for the Presidency, his supporters would frequently reference the incident as an example of his extraordinary character.
In his junior year at Harvard (1879) T.R. fought for the university cup against a senior and was “severely punished” according to the New York Times. The Times often reported on the athletic exploits of Ivy League athletes as these schools were considered incubators for the future economic, social and political leaders of America. His opponent was two or three inches taller and had a much longer reach. “When time was called after the last round,” one spectator recalled, “his face was dashed with blood and he was much winded; but his spirit did not flag, and if there had been another round, he would have gone into it with undiminished determination.”

T.R. was at best a fair boxer and athlete, but he loved boxing, and was a steadfast supporter of the sport as long as it remained free of gambling and corruption. In 1896, while serving as police commissioner of New York City, Roosevelt endorsed a bill that legalized boxing in the state. He believed that under the right circumstances boxing had value as a “vigorous healthful sport that develops courage, keenness of mind, quickness of eye, and a spirit of combativeness that fits every boy who engages in it for the daily tasks that confront him.” But the professional side of the sport remained a problem for him. In 1899, during his term as New York’s Governor, boxing was rocked by a number of major betting scandals and fixed fights. The following year he reluctantly signed a bill outlawing professional prizefighting in New York State. (The ban lasted four years).

TR Sparring with Mike Donovan
TR Sparring with Mike Donovan

Roosevelt’s interest in athletics, and specifically boxing, was the result of a lifelong pursuit of what he called “The Strenuous Life.” TR exercised daily and was constantly challenging himself to do better. His favorite sports were boxing, tennis, hiking, rowing, polo and horseback riding. He greatly admired boxers and formed friendships with John L. Sullivan, Bob Fitzsimmons, Battling Nelson and Mike Donovan. Even while occupying the White House (1901-1909) Roosevelt enjoyed boxing with an array of sparring partners, including former professionals, several times each week. By then the President was a full-fledged heavyweight, weighing around 190 pounds

.
During a sparring session with a military aide Roosevelt took a hard punch to his left eye. He gradually lost sight in the damaged orb, but that information was not made public until many years later. Although the injury failed to dampen his enthusiasm for boxing he thereafter confined his physical jousts to practicing judo, attaining a third degree brown belt.

Of all the fighters Roosevelt knew he was closest to Sullivan

Of all the fighters Roosevelt knew he was closest to Sullivan, who reigned as heavyweight champion from 1882 to 1892. They first met in the mid-1890s when TR was a crusading police commissioner in New York City. Sullivan had retired in 1892 after losing the title to James J. Corbett, but the public’s adulation for “The Great John L.” endured well after his last bout. During that time he earned his living as a professional entertainer and temperance lecturer.

The Patrician Roosevelt and the roughhewn Sullivan, an Irish-American from an urban, working class background, formed a sort of mutual admiration society based on their common interests. They were the same age, and as noted by Sullivan biographer Michael T. Isenberg, “Each worshipped the shrine of masculinity and had, in his different way, been a missionary of the strenuous life; each was his own brass band.”

TR BoxingRoosevelt’s friendship with Sullivan remained strong during and after his Presidency. In later years Sullivan was a frequent guest at Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill Estate. Both of these fascinating and charismatic individuals were perfect symbols of their era. Energetic, confident, assertive and occasionally reckless their colorful personalities embodied the qualities of a country ascending to greatness at the turn of the last century.

The 25th President of the United States would have made a wonderful boxing commissioner but after his “Rough Rider” campaign in Cuba during the Spanish-American War of 1898 bigger and more important responsibilities awaited him. But if there ever was an individual with the wherewithal, honesty and courage to clean up professional boxing that man would have been Theodore Roosevelt.

Mike Silver is the author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” (McFarland Publishers, paperback 2014).

RINGING IN THE HOLIDAY SEASON WITH TRINITY REP’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Storybook London comes to life| November 7- December 31

PROVIDENCE, RI: Trinity Rep announces its annual presentation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, directed by Curt Columbus, and featuring resident acting company member Stephen Berenson as Scrooge. Performances run November 7 through December 31. Tickets are on sale now and by phone at (401) 351-4242, online at www.trinityrep.com, or in person at the theater’s box office at 201 Washington St. A Christmas Carol is presented by Cardi’s Furniture with supporting sponsor Amica Insurance.

Stephen Berenson as Ebenezer Scrooge
Stephen Berenson as Ebenezer Scrooge

A timeless tale of forgiveness and hope enjoyed by generations of New Englanders, this holiday favorite earns rave reviews from audiences and critics year after year. The Boston Globe praises the annual tradition saying, “There is no better Carol than the one that Trinity Repertory Company puts on every Christmas season.”
“A Christmas Carol is a story of compassion, generosity and possibility, which are all part of the holiday spirit,” remarks director Curt Columbus. “It simply would not be Christmas in Rhode Island without this show, and sharing it with the community every year is our way of celebrating the season with our neighbors.”

Stephen Berenson as Ebenezer Scrooge with Rachael Warren and Joshua Lomeli as solicitors for the poor
Stephen Berenson as Ebenezer Scrooge with Rachael Warren and Joshua Lomeli as solicitors for the poor

This year’s Carol features many Trinity Rep resident acting company favorites including Stephen Berenson, Janice Duclos, Phyllis Kay, Brian McEleney, Anne Scurria, Fred Sullivan, Jr., Stephen Thorne and Rachael Warren; guest actors Adrian Blount and Whitney White; and Brown/Trinity Rep MFA actors Dennis Kozee, Joshua Lomeli, and Kyle Vincent Terry.
Trinity Rep also welcomes twelve talented local children, ages 8-12, to the stage. One hundred fifty child actors auditioned and the rotating cast includes: Damola Adebayo of Providence, Calista Aguinado of Warwick, Lillian Johnson of Johnson, Thomas Fitzgerald of Warwick, Gustavo Londono of Cranston, Laurel McMahon of
Warwick, Amaryllis Miller of Cranston, Bobby Miller of Cranston, Antonio Ross of North Providence, Ronin Scott of Warwick, Billy Stockton of Johnston, and Delaney Wilson of Berkeley, MA.

Kyle Vincent Terry as Fred, Whitney White as Lucy, Adrian Blount as Sister-in-law and Dennis Kozee as Topper
Kyle Vincent Terry as Fred, Whitney White as Lucy, Adrian Blount as Sister-in-law and Dennis Kozee as Topper

The design team includes Michael Rice (music direction), Shura Baryshnikov (choreography), Deb O (set design), Toni Spadafora (costume design), Josh Epstein (lighting design), Peter Sasha Hurowitz (sound design) and Aaron Rhyne and John Narun (projection design).
Curt Columbus became Trinity Repertory Company’s fifth artistic director in January 2006. He is also the artistic director of the Brown/Trinity MFA programs in Acting and Directing. Trinity Rep directing credits include Middletown, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, The Merchant of Venice, His Girl Friday, Camelot,
Cabaret, The Odd Couple, The Secret Rapture, The Receptionist, Memory House, Blithe Spirit, A Christmas
Carol, Cherry Orchard and the world premieres of The Completely Fictional, Utterly True, Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allen Poe and Social Creatures. Trinity Rep has been home to the world premieres of three of his
plays, Paris by Night, The Dreams of Antigone, and Sparrow Grass. Trinity has also produced his translations of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Ivanov, as well as Georges Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear.

Whitney White as Ghost of Christmas Past
Whitney White as Ghost of Christmas Past

Prior to coming to Trinity, Curt lived and worked in the Chicago theater scene for almost twenty years. He was artistic associate of Victory Gardens Theater from 1989-1994, the director of the University of Chicago’s University Theater from 1994-2000, and the associate artistic director of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company from 2000-2005, where he premiered his translations of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard, and Elsa Bernstein’s Maria Arndt.

Curt’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (with Marilyn Campbell) has won awards and accolades at theaters around the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. His translation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, developed at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia, was published by Dramatists Play Service, as was his play, Sparrow Grass, and his translation/adaptation of Ivanov.

Photo Credit: Mark Turek

Richmond Barthé’s Boxer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

by David Curcio

RichmondBarthe-boxerDeep within the Metropolitan Museum’s American galleries and flanked by two mid-twentieth century paintings (one depicting a guileless, dour clown; the other a ferocious acrobat) stands a statue, rendered in bronze, of the great Cuban featherweight Kid Chocolate. Born Eligio Sadiñas Montalvo in 1910, Kid Chocolate was a Super Featherweight who gradually moved up in weight divisions to become Cuba’s first world champion, all the while living hard and indulging freely in women and booze. When he moved to the Junior Lightweight division in 1931, he knocked out Benny Bass for the title. At the end of that same year he moved up in weight again, challenging Tony Canzoneri as a Lightweight to lose in a 15 round decision.

Standing at about a foot and a half, the sculpture was created by the African-American artist James Richmond Barthé when he was 41 years old. Born in 1901, seemingly under a lucky star, Barthé left his impoverished childhood in St. Louis, Mississippi behind him when a wealthy family of benefactors took him under their wing when he was fourteen. With their financial support and political pull, Barthé attended the Art Institute of Chicago – a rare instance of a young black man gaining access to formal artistic training at a time when most colleges were not accepting black students. Though he garnered lucrative work as a portrait painter within Chicago’s affluent black community during his time at the Art Institute, he nonetheless became restless. New York – the world’s artistic epicenter – was beckoning, and so he left upon graduation for uptown Manhattan to join the Harlem Renaissance and its jazz-fueled nightlife which, along with the Great Depression, was in full swing.

Kid Chocolate
Kid Chocolate

Somewhere between a plodding Giacometti figure and the swift, frantic advance of Ernst Barlach’s sword-wielding Avenger is Kid Chocolate’s display of the controlled and graceful but brutish energy of the pugilist in mid-swing. Head tucked, body bouncing on the balls of the feet with the lead foot forward, right arm crooked for a body shot or a swift uppercut and a rangy left arm hanging for a split second at his side, the figure seems ready to deliver a hook with a quick pivot of the feet. Barthé created the Boxer from memory, making the accuracy of musculature, facial features and the fighter’s stance even more impressive. Form has been exaggerated to the point of distortion: rangy beyond belief, the Kid’s waist is almost impossibly narrow in comparison to his broad shoulders. His hair, quaffed, oiled, and set in a pompadour, revels in detail the level of which would not be out of place in a hairdresser’s style book. His light bounce suggests a light sparring session or shadow boxing exhibition. In almost every aspect Barthé’s preoccupation with the fighter’s physical beauty is evident.

As a homosexual living in an age hostile to both gays and African Americans, Barthé would not have been able to portray the male figure with any degree of sensuality without being labeled mentally ill, perverted, and criminal. By the 1930s, with boxing firmly established as the country’s most popular sport, daily reports on fights in newspapers were ubiquitous, along with images of fighters in art and advertising. At a time when to be homosexual came with great risk, gay artists looked to subject matter that allowed them to revel in the physicality of the male figure while sticking to popular, marketable subject matter. To the left of The Boxer at the Met is Paul Cadmus’ 1936 painting in tempera on masonite Gilding the Acrobats. The nude, muscular male athlete applying gold gilt to his body with the help of two other men (one also in a state of near undress), shows the ways artists used athletics as a means of sexualizing and fetishizing the male figure.*

From July of 1931 to December of 1933, Kid Chocolate held the Junior Lightweight title, all the while maintaining a lifestyle closer to that of a New York bohemian than that of a champion. Sometime in 1932 he contracted syphilis, the deadly by-product of his social milieu, and on Christmas day of 1933 he lost the title to Frankie Klick (that he may have fought with the after-effects of syphilis wasn’t known until after the fight). A few months later he was kayoed in a rematch with Canzoneri, prompting a brief retirement. The following year he returned to the ring with a vengeance, fighting 50 bouts and winning 47 before finally retiring for good in 1938 with a record of 135 wins, 10 losses and 6 draws, He returned to Cuba to live a quiet life, his wild days now behind him. No longer wealthy, it was not until the late 70s that the Cuban government recognized his contribution to Cuban athletics and provided him with a pension. He continued to live in the house he bought for his mother, where he died in 1988.

Sugar Ray Robinson considered Kid Chocolate the fighter he most admired for his stylish movement, balance, and slick flair within the ring. Barthé was equally admiring of Chocolate’s flair, comparing his light, graceful style to that of a ballet dancer. (This was not an unusual comparison. Over the years countless fighters – most famously Marvin Hagler – have dabbled in ballet to hone these same qualities.) Barthé’s bronze can be read on many levels: a strong, albeit exaggerated study of the male form; a veiled work of homoeroticism; and – in the accuracy of the features – as a portrait. Most importantly, the work stands as an imposing testament to Chocolate’s grace and beauty, now frozen in time for eternity.

*Of course this was not always the case, and I am not suggesting that all athletic imagery from the early-mid twentieth century is thinly-veiled homoeroticism. One only has to contrast these images with the boxing pictures of George Bellows, whose interest lay the social spectacle of the sport, as well as in the action, movement, and contortions of, as he put it, “two men trying to kill each other.”

“The Heidi Chronicles”

At Trinity Rep, Providence, RI

Reviewed

by David Curcio

“Valuing happiness is not necessarily linked to greater happiness. In fact, under certain conditions, the opposite is true. Under conditions of low (but not high) life stress, the more people valued happiness… the higher their depressive symptoms.”*

In an interview with Vivienne Benesch, the director of The Heidi Chronicles at the Trinity Rep in Providence, she pulls an unusual quote, made by the main character, from a highly quotable play: “I’m afraid I haven’t been happy for some time.” With this line, Benesch reveals her vision of the play as a study in the search for happiness, with its backdrop of militant, idealistic second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 70s and the insufferable self-obsession of the 80s, when money rendered such ideals a lot less pressing.

Angela Brazil as Heidi Holland Photo Mark Turek
Angela Brazil as Heidi Holland
Photo Mark Turek

Heidi, played with blushing earnestness by Angela Brazil, is an art historian with a focus on arcane female painters from the Madonnas of the Renaissance to “the present day.” With her focus on the ways in which women portray themselves (and other women) through the ages, she seems to be looking for the ways these pictures of women in liminal moments – at once inviting us in while remaining slightly aloof – might reveal something about herself, and maybe they do. Like these woefully underrepresented artists and their subjects, Heidi is forever skirting the esprit de corps without fully engaging. Like Zelig, she’s a witness when it all goes down but never an active participant. From a college “Students for McCarthy” mixer to “Consciousness Raising” feminist retreats to baby showers in apartments on Central Park West and power lunches with her executive friends, Heidi remains an outsider.

Angela Brazil as Heidi Holland and Rachel Christopher as Susan Johnston Photo Mark Turek
Angela Brazil as Heidi Holland and Rachel Christopher as Susan Johnston
Photo Mark Turek

The looming question is why Wendy Wasserstein’s play, a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, is relevant today. For all of the (fantastic) cast’s enthusiasm, it feels a bit dusted off, and a dismal reminder of how little progress feminism has made. Director Benesch laments that “we will probably never be post-feminist,” and if we define post-feminist as a meaningful reaction against the contradictions and black-and-white thinking of the second-wave feminism of the sixties and seventies, or as the notion that second-wave feminism is so assimilated into our society we assume it has “won” (a phenomenon also referred to as Enlightened Sexism), she is at least partly right. Feminism as a movement is protean, with definitions and goals that are forever shifting with the political, financial and social climate of the day. With ongoing wage discrepancies, the dearth of women in executive positions, the all-out war on birth control, abortion and HPV vaccination, and a presidential frontrunner who attributes much-deserved criticism by a female journalist to her period, can this battle ever end, let alone be won?

Heidi art for webBut I think Heidi already knows this. As a woman who looks at paintings for a living, she sees the subtle shades of gray that compose the world, and her militant friends’ taunts “either you shave your legs or you don’t” demand self-definition based on arbitrary black-and-white thinking that Heidi cannot accept. Her two male friends, one a handsome, sensitive homosexual doctor and the other a philandering blowhard, represent the breadth of the male sex in Wasserstein’s universe: either a perfect but unattainable specimen or a (surprisingly ernest) scumbag who’s always up for a romp. She remains friends with them throughout the play’s span of twenty one years, but they show little change or growth. Peter is steady and compassionate, but ultimately a crushed cynic in the face of the AIDS epidemic. Scoop takes Heidi’s virginity at a college mixer and appears and reappears over the years with the same frequency as Peter – a friend perhaps, albeit one who forever wants to get in her pants just one more time despite his marriage. He’s played with a believable, endearing schmuckiness (if there is such a thing) by Mauro Hantman.

The idealism of the seventies caving to the self-absorption and financial highs of the eighties is embodied in Heidi’s friend Susan, a “lingerie burning” radical turned Hollywood Power exec. In an exclusive restaurant where Diane Keaton is dining a few tables away, she tells her lunch companions, “Equal rights is one thing. Equal pay is one thing. But winning because you’re a woman is something else!” And with that kind of dough, who has time to think about equality? The shift from idealism to self-absorption begs the question: were Heidi’s peers this shallow all along, and does money just allow them to embrace it?

As I sat in the theater I wondered what the intended audience might be. Vivienne Benesch says that “any play with this many funny, smart women can be an eye-opener for men.” A bit of condescension from the director – as a man, it should sting, but it doesn’t. Just what kind of bimbos does Benesch think us men hang out with? While executed seamlessly, the production is ultimately a nostalgia piece for the baby-boomer set, who can first have a good laugh at the funny ways they dressed and then a serious reflection on whether their lofty ideals were really attained.

The brilliant, spare sets and one thousand percent believable costumes (by Lee Savage and Tracy Christensen respectively), and the charismatic, wholly believable performances across the board were not enough to save this production from its worn material. Happiness, Heidi’s ever-elusive ideal, is presented in the play as life’s greatest of mysteries. It is therefore apposite to paraphrase Heidi’s friend Scoop, the jagoff philanderer, who provides Heidi with the maxim that if one aims for a six out of ten in life, there will be no disappointments. It is when one shoots for the ten that things get depressing and despair can set in. The play’s ending shows Heidi as a single mother. Is this a cop out? Does it perpetuate the notion that only by having children will a woman be happy, or does it acknowledge a genuine, biological maternal instinct, the fulfillment of which brings meaning to this life of an observer? Scoop might ask if this a six or a ten, and I wondered the same. But did feminism ever address the key to individual happiness, and does Heidi’s motherhood provide satisfactory closure to these twenty nine years? Sadly, it translates more as an admission that the progress we were hoping for never really happened and that hopefully the next generation will fix it.

*From Can seeking happiness make people unhappy? Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness.

by Iria B. Mauss, Maya Tamir, Craig L. Anderson, and Nicole S. Savino, Nicole S. in

Emotion, Vol 11(4), Aug 2011.

The Heidi Chronicles is playing at the Trinity Rep in Providence through January 3rd. www.trinityrep.com

Quarry Defeats Klitschko And Fury On The Same Night

Jerry Doesn’t Break A Sweat

by Bobby Franklin

Now that November’s Fury vs Klitschko so called heavyweight title fight is history I thought most fight fans would have finally accepted the fact that neither of these guys know how to fight. They don’t even have the basics down. Well, it turns out I was mistaken. If I can believe what I read on the various on line boxing sites there still is a very large number of self described boxing experts who believe Wladimir and Tyson should be ranked among the best of all time. The most common reason cited is their size. Typical of the comments you will read is “Sure, guys like Dempsey, Louis, and Marciano were good in their day, but they were way too small to stand up to the giants that dominate the division today.”

Quarry Lands jab On Foster
Quarry Lands jab On Foster

I have already written about that fight, and I still stand behind my statement that it was the worst heavyweight title fight in history, and that there was not a single former champion from Holmes going back to Sullivan who would have lost to either Fury or Klitschko. There are many who have voiced disagreement with me. What I would like to do with this column is ask my readers to go back not too many years and examine a fighter who never won the title, but one who had a number of victories over opponents bigger than he was and who were murderous punchers. You can watch many of these fights on Youtube. Set emotion aside and take some time to examine Jerry Quarry in these fights. After doing so, watch a replay of the Wlad vs Tyson fight. If you still believe either of these guys could have beaten Jerry send me a case of whatever you are drinking.

 

Jerry Destroys Shavers
Jerry Destroys Shavers

Many believe Jerry Quarry’s best night was his one round knock out win over the murderous punching Earnie Shavers. Jerry was beautiful that night in Madison Square Garden and completely demolished Shavers in a little over two minutes. Earnie entered the ring riding a 33 fight win streak with all but one of those victories coming via knockout. This was a stunning and outstanding win for Jerry, but it was not some fluke. Quarry took on and defeated many other great punchers.

The other two fights to watch are Jerry’s bouts against Mac Foster and Ron Lyle. Foster was undefeated in 24 bouts with all his victories coming via knockout whle Lyle also had an unblemished record of 19 straight wins with 17 knockouts. Both were fearsome punchers who had a hundred times the ability and skill of Fury and Klitschko.

Watching both of these fights you will see Jerry performing as the consummate boxer/puncher. He is cool and methodical as he calmly slips the bombs being tossed at him by both of these opponents. He pivots and throws left hooks to the body in order to get his foes to lower their guards. In the case of Foster he is able to stop him in the sixth round. Against Lyle he handily wins a decision. By the way, both of these men were bigger than Jerry.

Quarry Drops Patterson
Quarry Drops Patterson

Jerry was a brilliant counter puncher who could fight off the ropes. He dropped Floyd Patterson four times in two fights with at least two of those knockdowns being the result of counterpunches thrown while Quarry had his back to the ropes.

Jerry could move on his feet, feint, had terrific head movement, work both the body and the head, and he was able to set traps to ensnare his opponents. The modern day boxing fan might not recognize a lot of this when watching film of these fights. The reason for this lack of understanding involves a few things. First, very few if any fighters today know how to do any of these moves, never mind having a full repertoire in their arsenals, so today’s fans have never seen these things. Two, the commentators, with some exceptions, do not know what these moves are so would be unable to point them out even if they were happening. And three, today’s trainers do not know enough to teach these techniques. This is wildly evident when watching Klitschko and Fury. They do not even have the basics down.

So, let’s transport Jerry Quarry to the present day and have him step into the ring with Wlad and Tyson. In the case of Klitschko, the former champ would come out standing straight up in that very tight wide stance which is all he knows. He would begin pawing with his ponderous jab. At first Jerry would probably be hesitant thinking that he is being lured into some sort of a trap. He would soon figure out what was going on because when he feints Wlad he would see him flinch and close his eyes. After that the end would come quickly as Jerry would slip the jab and land monstrous left hooks to the body that would double Dr. Hammer up. At that point Jerry would easily finish him off.

Having now ended his match against Klitschko, the promoters could immediately bring Tyson Fury into the ring. After a brief introduction the bell would ring for the first round. Fury may last a little longer as he would begin running as fast as he could while the sound of the bell is still lingering in the crowd’s ears. This fight would end in one of two ways. Either Fury is counted out after being hit by the first blows Jerry lands, or he is disqualified for turning his back and attempting to turn a boxing match into a 10K road race.

I am not trying to be sarcastic here as I have no doubt this is what would happen. Jerry Quarry was a top fighter in an era of great fighters. He was a complete professional who had spent years learning and perfecting his craft. Letting him step into the ring against any of today’s heavyweights, and I don’t care how big they are, could be considered a criminal act because Jerry would be bringing in a full arsenal against unarmed men.

If you want to see a fighter who knows his craft don’t waste your time watching the current crop of contenders, check out Jerry Quarry performing his craft. That boy could fight!

A Beautiful Violet Grows At The SpeakEasy

 

“Violet” At The Calderwood Pavilion, Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

My review of the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Violet” could be summed up in just three words: See this play.

Flick, Violet, and Monty
Flick, Violet, and Monty

Violet, which premiered off Broadway in 1997 originally got mixed reviews, but fortunately survived and went on to play Broadway. This Boston run is being directed by Paul Daigneault who is taking it on for the second time, it played the SpeakEasy in 2000, and he has done a masterful job. Along with a remarkable score composed by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Brian Crawley and a first rate cast led by Alison McCartan who’s Violet is near perfect.

Violet and Young Violet
Violet and Young Violet

Set in 1964, it is the story of Violet, a young woman who has a severe facial scar that resulted from a tragic accident when she was a child. She has gathered together enough money to take a bus trip from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma where she believes a faith healer can remove her scar and the emotional pain that goes with it.

Along the way she befriends a number of people including two soldiers, Flick and Monty, who both come to care for her very much. There are also scenes that occur during the performance of the young Violet, played with amazing depth by Audree Hedequist, and her father played by Michael Mendiola in a role filled with emotion that seems made to order for him. The two are beautiful to watch together and give the audience insight into how Violet’s strength was developed.

It would have been so easy for this play to have fallen into the story of a bitter young woman who is mad at the world for the bad hand she has been dealt, and the people who look at her and feel pity for her, but that is not how it goes.

Adult Violet & Father
Adult Violet & Father

Violet is tough and smart. Yes, she is angry and hurt, but at no time did I feel pity for her. I was sympathetic towards her, but I also recognized the amazing strength of her character. Flick does as well. Her father did a remarkable job giving her the tools to enable her to deal with life, which is conveyed in the number “Luck of the Draw”. The people Violet encounters on her trip learn as much from her as she does from them.

The musical score is breathtaking covering many genres including gospel, folk, rock, and country. It is hard to believe one composer could master so many different types of music. While all the numbers are outstanding I do have to make mention of “Let It Sing” performed by Dan Belnavis as Flick. His incredible voice fills the theater with emotion.

John King as Preacher
John King as Preacher

I would also note that the scenes with the faith healing preacher are played just right by John F. King who did not slip into parody, which would have been easy to do, but instead showed the human qualities of the man without diminishing him. It was not easy to do, but Mr. King got it right.

Again, see this play, you will not be disappointed. Violet will move you, touch you, and make you want to Let It Sing! What you see and hear will stay with you long after you experience this amazing production. Theatre is alive and well in Boston thanks to the SpeakEasy Production Company.

Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Violet, playing through February 6th at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston.617.933.8600

www.BostonTheatreScene.com


 

 

 

 

The White Chip, A Very Funny Play About A Very Serious Subject

 

At The Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell Through January 31st

Directed by Sheryl Kaller

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Actor #2 (Isabel Keating), Sean Daniels (Jeffrey Binder), Actor #1 (Benjamin Evett)
Actor #2 (Isabel Keating), Sean Daniels (Jeffrey Binder), Actor #1 (Benjamin Evett)

“The White Chip” now playing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell is an important work. Written by Sean Daniels, MRT’s Artistic Director, it is a no holds barred look at Sean’s painful struggle with addiction. In it he tells the story of how he practically ruined his life, his relationships, and his health because of the hold alcohol had on him. In the play the audience witnesses Sean’s tragic life as we see the disease progress and tear him apart, and while we are watching this tale of self destruction we are many times laughing to the point of tears. I know, it sounds a bit strange.

The cast is led by Jeffrey Binder as Sean who is superb in a role that takes incredible emotional stamina. Within minutes he has formed a bond with the audience who now become immersed in his life story. Mr. Binder is fluid on the stage and his face takes on the years of abuse as the play and his alcoholism progresses. This is not done with makeup.

Isabel Keating, Benjamin Evett, Jeffrey Binder
Isabel Keating, Benjamin Evett, Jeffrey Binder

Benjamin Evett and Isabel Keating are listed in the program as Actor #1 and Actor #2 as they play multiple roles and slip in and out of their various characters without missing a beat. Having seen Mr. Evett perform many times before, I was not surprised at this as he is one of the areas top actors. This was my introduction to Ms Keating and to say I was impressed would be an understatement. It wonderful to watch such talented actors switch from character to character at the drop of a hat.

The title refers to the white chip, or token, that is given to people when they first attend a Twelve Step Program. It is in recognition of their taking the first step towards recovery. Unfortunately, Sean has amassed a large amount of these chips over the years as he has relapsed time and time again, with each new round of drinking dragging him further and further down towards that black hole. Along the way he learns better and better ways to hide his drinking from others, how to lie to himself, and how to avoid responsibilities, but eventually his life starts to completely unravel. Much will be familiar to those who have or know someone who has dealt with this awful disease.

Sean and Bartender
Sean and Bartender

Okay, so you must be wondering why I said this is a funny play. It sounds pretty dreadful, and it is. The great thing about “The White Chip” is how Daniels has filled it with so much laughter. There are jokes about his Mormon upbringing, his embarrassing escapades while on a bender, his relationship with his mother, who also is an alcoholic, and his meeting with the Jews where he is finally able to make some sense of things. Who would have thought such a thing?. There is wonderful banter among all the characters as they move about the stage engaged in quick-witted exchanges. There are projections onto two screens with cartoon like characterizations of the embarrassing escapades Sean has embarked on while drunk as well as graphics listing the pros and cons of his behavior. Mr. Evett is particularly impressive when he plays Sean’s father who is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Many of these scenes are heartbreaking and touching.

If this play weren’t funny it would be unbearable to watch.

And that is what is so wonderful about it. By allowing his audience the release through the comedy Mr. Daniels is able to tell his story of just how terrible his struggle has been, and of how so many people are dealing with the same battle. It is a battle to overcome the shame and ask for help. It is not only a play for those who have or are struggling with addiction, but a story that should be seen by all people so they will begin to realize the stigma associated with addiction is cruel and uncalled for. The way to help people is to allow them to step away from the shame and know they will be able to reach out for help without being branded as weak and lacking in character.

In the program notes Sean Daniels expresses something that has to be a first for an artist. About “The White Chip” he writes “And I do hope that no one produces it in ten years because it feels incredibly outdated-because we have no more silent deaths.” As much as I enjoyed this play and urge people to see it, I have to agree with him.

“The White Chip” playing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell, MA through January 31st . Box Office: 978.654.4678

MRT.0rg

Photo Credit: Merrimack Repertory Theatre

 

Blood On Their, And Our Hands

The Continuing Tragedy Of Magomed Abdusalamov

by Bobby Franklin

To most boxing fans the events of November 2, 2013 are a distant and faded memory. Those who watched the Mike Perez vs Magomed Abdusalamov bout on HBO that evening will remember that it was a brutal fight and that Mago, as Abdusalamov is more often referred to, took a brutal beating. They also may recall that after the bout the courageous heavyweight lapsed into a coma. The tragedy of that evening was in the news for a very short time, and boxing continued as usual without missing a beat. There was very little outcry about this. Nothing like the days when, in a supposedly more callous time, there were investigations and calls for banning the sport after Benny Kid Paret died after taking a beating from Emile Griffith. Or, November 13, 1982 the afternoon Duk Koo Kim died after being kayoed by Ray Mancini. After that bout their were in depth investigations into the cause of Kim’s death and changes in rules such as changing championship fights from 15 rounds to 12 rounds. The public saw this as a terrible tragedy and it was talked about for months afterwards. It was disturbing to people that they would witness a man being killed on live television and there was a dialog about what should be done including whether or not boxing should be banned.

Mago and Family
Mago and Family

Fast forward to 2013 and we are experiencing a very different reaction to an event that in many ways can be seen as worse than a fighter dying in the ring. Mr. Abdusalamov did not die from his injuries. The husband and father who received all of $30,000.00 for the beating he took lies in a family friend’s home in Connecticut partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Boxing continued uninterrupted after this horrific evening, and nothing has changed. If you watched boxing on TV shortly after that night you will have noted there was very little said about Mago other than a brief update on his condition. Some boxing writers, including me, did write about what we believed to be the negligence that occurred on so many levels that evening in New York City.

Well, thanks to New Times writer Dan Barry who has written a piece entitled “A Fighter’s Hour of Need”, we now have some more insight into the events of that night and just how terrible things were handled o so many levels. Mr. Barry’s piece can be read by going to: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/sports/magomed-abdusalamov-boxing-madison-square-garden.html?_r=0

Though I must warn you, what you will read is positively nauseating. Barry pieces together the events from transcripts of interviews given under oath during a continuing investigation being conducted by the New York State Office of the Inspector General. It is a lurid tale of neglect, incompetence, passing of blame, and cold heartedness that is truly unbelievable.

Between Rounds
Between Rounds

Mago, who had been on the receiving end of a terrible beating, is given a total of 15 minutes medical attention in the dressing room after the bout. He is asked through an interpreter if he has a headache. He responds that his face hurts, the same thing he was saying between rounds during the bout. Because, and even though his response is through the interpreter, he doesn’t specifically say he has a headache, the doctor decides he does not have serious enough injuries that would justify having an ambulance take him to the hospital. There were two on site. Mago’s trainer John David Jackson thought he should go to the hospital, but did not pursue the matter. In this age of cell phones it seems insane that nobody dialed 911. Why didn’t someone just approach one of the EMTs and demand they take the fighter to the hospital?

Dr. Gerard Varlotta was the doctor who examined Mr. Abdusalamov after the bout. Varlotta is a sports medicine specialist. As far as I have ever known sports a medicine doctor’s focus is usually on muscle, bone, and joint injuries. There was a neurologist in attendance that evening, but he remained seated at ringside and Varlotta reported his findings to him. The neurologist, Dr. Barry Jordan, had witnessed the Abdusalamov Perez fight and never once stepped into the ring to examine Mago even though it was obvious even from watching on television that the fighter was taking terrible punishment. Dr. Jordan also seemed not to feel there was any reason for him to leave his seat at ringside to spend a few moments in the dressing room examining the gravely injured fighter.

There is so much more contained in Dan Barry’s article. Clearly there was no one in authority around Mr. Abdusalamov that evening who would step forward and see the injured warrior was cared for. Eventually, Mago was taken by cab to a local hospital where he fell into a coma. His brain had most likely started to bleed during the fight, and certainly had in the dressing room after. It should also be remembered that Mr. Abdusalamov was complaining about “face pain” to his corner men during the fight. It was clear from watching the fight that there were problems early on. Time was of the essence.

If only the chief second had stopped the fight after the 4th round. If only Dr. Jordan had bothered to step into the ring to examine the fighter. If only Mago had been taken to the hospital immediately after the fight. If only the officials and medical people in charge that night were better trained and not just political appointees. If only there was an adult in charge. If only, if only…If only someone gave a damn.

Mr. Abdusalamov’s family has been filing lawsuits but they have an uphill battle suing the government. I do not know what culpability HBO has, but I would think they have at the very least a moral obligation to see Magomed Abdusalamov is not forgotten.

And what about the public? After all, it is our desire to see men step into a ring with the sole objective of inflicting head injuries on one another that makes this all possible. Are we culpable as well?

Please read Dan Barry’s piece. It is important that the public has the facts. It is important that we not allow this to happen again.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/sports/magomed-abdusalamov-boxing-madison-square-garden.html?_r=0

 

Does Size Matter?

Super Size Heavyweights

Are Nothing New

by Bobby Franklin

It is a chorus heard over and over again, “Sure, guys like Dempsey and Louis were good in their day, but today’s giant heavyweights would just be too big and strong for them. The old-timers would wilt under the power they would be facing.”

I guess before the 21st century we were living in a world of small people.

I guess before the 21st century we were living in a world of small people. Those who believe the Klitschkos and Furys of today would beat the greats of the past because they are so big just can’t be convinced differently. They think bigger is better and refuse to take into account boxing skill, something that is sorely missing in today’s game.

I am including some photos with this article along with details that show very big heavyweights have always been around, and there have been plenty of giant killers to accommodate them.

Dempsey Willard
Dempsey Willard

Jack Dempsey is always the first to come to mind with his brutal destruction of the 6’6 ½ “ 245 pound Jess Willard. Take a look at the photo of this bout I have included and tell me Dempsey would not have been able to reach the jaws of today’s slow moving behemoths. Dempsey at 187 pounds and standing 6’1” used his speed and power to make Willard’s size a liability for the Pottawatomie Giant. Not only did Dempsey defeat Willard, but it was one of the most brutal beatings ever handed out in a championship boxing match. And don’t tell me Willard was a bum. A few years before he had defeated the great Jack Johnson while going 45 rounds in the blazing Havana sun. Sure, Johnson was not in his prime, but he was still a great fighter. Plus, battling in temperatures that reached over 100 degrees is something not many today would be able to do, especially for over two hours.

Dempsey and Big Bill Tate 1919
Dempsey and Big Bill Tate 1919

Dempsey beat two other fighters who were much bigger than he was. The 6’4”Carl Morris, who weighed 226 pounds to Dempsey’s 187, lost three times to Jack. Once by decision, once by DQ, and once by first round knock out.

In 1923 Dempsey defended his title against South American champion Luis Firpo in a bout that will be remembered for Dempsey being knocked out of the ring. Firpo outweighed Jack by 24 pounds and was as strong as they come. While Dempsey’s rather awkward exit from the ring makes this sound like it may have been a close fight, the reality is Dempsey administered almost as savage a beating to Firpo as he did to Willard. Firpo was down 7 times in the first round and twice in the second on the way to being knocked out. Dempsey hit the canvas one time on top of the trip outside of the ring, but those knockdowns were caused more by the rushes from the Wild Bull of the Pampas.

Oddly enough, while Dempsey was truly a giant killer he did have some trouble with a fighter smaller than he was. When the champion defended the title against Tom Gibbons in 1923, Jack had a 12 pound weight advantage. The very smart boxing, and survival minded Gibbons, moved deftly and tied up Dempsey for the 15 rounds while losing a unanimous decision. This is one of Dempsey’s most interesting fights to watch in that you see what great boxing moves the Manassas Mauler possessed. He was well taught by the great trainer Jimmy DeForreset.

Louis Carnera
Louis Carnera
Louis vs Carnera 1935
Louis vs Carnera 1935

I will briefly mention a few others. Joe Louis was no stranger to fighting opponents who were much bigger than he was. He fought and beat Primo Carnera at 260 pounds to Louis’s 196, Buddy Baer who came in at 250 to Joe’s 206, and Abe Simon with Louis at 202 to Simon’s 254. The Brown Bomber had no problem reaching the jaws of any of these giants. Again, Joe had more difficulty with the lighter guys. Billy Conn, Max Schmeling, and Joe Walcott were all smaller than Joe.

Starkey and Carnera
Starkey and Carnera

Boston’s Jack Sharkey didn’t believe size mattered either. Jack, at 187 pounds, took on and beat the 6’3”, 220 pound George Godfrey. At 188 he beat Harry Wills who weighed 214, and in his first fight with Primo Carnera he easily beat the 260 pound strong man though only weighing 201 himself.

Again, it was the smaller guys who gave Sharkey more trouble. He lost to Tommy Loughran and Tony Shucco, both of whom he outweighed by a considerable margin.

Kid Norfolk
Kid Norfolk

I would like to conclude this piece by including another very great fighter of the past whom many of you may not have heard of. Kid Norfolk was a middleweight and light heavyweight who fought all comers including Harry Greb. At 5’8” and weighing 182 pounds he took on the 6’6” 235 pound Big Bill Tate and beat him soundly over ten rounds. Tate was a sparring partner for Jack Dempsey and looked formidable against Norfolk. The Kid used his speed and great boxing ability to run rings around Tate. This fight is available on Youtube, and I strongly urge you to view it. Norfolk vs Klitschko or Fury? My money is on Norfolk any day of the week.

Does size matter? I guess you good say it does, but often to the benefit of the smaller man.

Book Review: The Proper Pugilist: Essays on the Milling Art by Roger Zotti

Review by Mike Silver

Proper Pugilist
Proper Pugilist

Aside from being an astute observer of the boxing scene Roger Zotti is also an avid film buff, which makes his observations in this little gem of a book all the more interesting. Throughout the book Roger intertwines stories of the sweet science with his vast knowledge of Hollywood filmdom. I don’t know of any other author who can find something in common between the spectacular comebacks of Archie Moore vs. Durelle and Marciano vs. Walcott to the comebacks of film actors Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity and Marlon Brando in The Godfather. But that is the subject of an essay titled “Fistic and Film Comebacks” and it’s what makes The Proper Pugilist: Essays on the Milling Art the perfect book for readers of this site.
Reading this concise collection of 22 short essays (each about three to four pages long) is akin to spending several enjoyable hours in conversation with a master story teller whose expertise and knowledge of his subject is obvious with every sentence. Several essays draw from the author’s personal experience as an enthusiastic young fan of televised boxing in the 1950s. In one essay he writes that his love of film and boxing was encouraged by his Uncle Cheech, citing comments he recorded in a decades old interview. “I love film noire”, says uncle Cheech. “Richard Conte, an Italian boy from New York, and McGraw—Charles McGraw—seemed to be in every film noire ever made. In many of Conte’s movies he was usually returning from somewhere—maybe from jail or from the service. In Cry of the City he gave his best performance. McGraw’s best movie was “The Narrow Margin. Where else but in a Roger Zotti book are you going to find stuff like this?

Where else but in a Roger Zotti book are you going to find stuff like this?
Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

In another essay titled “Dempsey According to Roger Kahn” the author takes issue with Kahn’s impugning the honesty of the referee in the famous Dempsey-Tunney long count fight that appeared in Kahn’s bio of Dempsey. In the same essay is an explanation as to why Dempsey, while heavyweight champion, refused to spar with Ernest Hemmingway.

Court Shepard and Paul Newman
Court Shepard and Paul Newman

In “Where Have You Gone Court Sheppard”, he writes about the actor that portrayed Tony Zale in the 1956 film biography of Rocky Graziano. The real Tony Zale was first hired to play himself in the movie but was unable to pull his punches during rehearsals with Paul Newman, who portrayed Graziano. After nearly flattening Newman twice, Zale was let go and replaced with Sheppard. We find out that Sheppard boxed professionally as a light heavyweight from 1937 to 1941 and compiled a 14-2-3 record. He also appeared in over two dozen other films. But even more impressive is that in 1936 he won the St. Louis Golden Gloves title by defeating future ring great Archie Moore in the finals! There are additional information filled stories on Dempsey, Sonny Liston, Stanley Ketchel, Jake LaMotta, Gene Tunney, Jack “Doc” Kearns and lesser known boxers from the 1950s television era such as Coley Wallace, Jimmy Herring, Roy Harris, Walter Cartier and Artie Diamond. Each of the 22 essays is just long enough to keep your interest and eagerly turn to the next story. I found it hard to put down this delightful foray into the colorful nether worlds of Hollywood and boxing.

The Proper Pugilist is a wonderful companion piece to Roger’s other book about boxing—Friday Night World: A Tribute to Fighters of the 1950s. That book is both a homage to the author’s favorite boxers of the 1950s and a memoir about growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, during the fifties era.

Mike Silver is the author of The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science (McFarland Publishers, paperback 2014). His new book, Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing (Lyons Press) will be published in March 2016.

The Ogunquit Playhouse Announces Its 2016 Season Lineup

 

The Season Kicks Of With Let It Be: A Celebration of the Music of the Beatles

Let It Be (Photo Paul Coltas)
Let It Be (Photo Paul Coltas)

It looks to be another exciting season as the Ogunquit Playhouse rolls out its schedule for 2016. This will be their longest season ever kicking off on May 18th with Let It Be: A Celebration of the Music of the Beatles. This tribute show follows the Fab Four from their humble Liverpool beginnings through their meteoric rise, and includes such great songs as Twist and Shout, She Loves You, Yesterday, Hey Jude, and Let It Be.

Let It Be will play through June 11th and be followed by Anything Goes, one of the great Broadway musicals featuring the music of Cole Porter.

Ogunquit 2016 SeasonThe season will continue with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and wrap up the regular season with the return of the rocking Million Dollar Quartet.

Once again, the Playhouse will work in collaboration with the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH to present a special Christmas show to be announced later.

The Qgunquit Playhouse is one of the most consistently good venues in New England, and this year’s lineup looks to be very promising.

Artistic Director Brad Kenney completed ten years with the Playhouse in 2015 and has taken the theatre far. Below is a Youtube look back on the many wonderful productions that have taken place under Brad’s incredible guidance.

For more information go to: www.ogunquitplayhouse.org

The Hartford Stage Presents Romeo and Juliet

Kaliswa Brewster and Chris Ghaffari Lead Cast

Directed by Darko Tresnjak

Chris Ghaffari and Kaliswa BrewsterHartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnik will be bringing his magic to William Shakespeare’s most popular play Romeo and Juliet beginning on February 11th and playing through March 20th.

Kaliswa Brewster and Chris Ghaffari will play the archetypal young lovers. Brewster’s credits include Hartford Stage’s La Dispute and Macbeth and Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Under Milk Wood, all three directed by Tresnjak; the new Showtime series “Billions,” which stars Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti and debuts next month; and the Off-Broadway premieres of Emotional Creature and Soldier X. Ghaffari is in his final year of the MFA program at the Yale School of Drama, where he has performed in Coriolanus, King John and Paradise Lost. His resume also includes King Lear for The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park and As You Like It and Julius Caesar at Shakespeare on the Sound.

Tresnjak said, “Romeo & Juliet is a play of seemingly infinite possibilities, reinvented from generation to generation for over 400 years, a symbol of romantic love infused with iconic imagery and unforgettable language that has become a part of the vernacular. We look forward to exploring this eternally modern play with a company of great stage veterans and rising stars.”

Having seen Darko perform his magic on MacBeth and Hamlet I am very much looking forward to seeing what he does with Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet contains some of Shakespeare’s best known lines including “A plague on both your houses.”, “Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow, that i shall say good night till it be morrow.”, and “What’s on a name? That which we call a rose by any bother name would smell as sweet.”

For more information go to: www.harfordstage.org or call 860-527-5151

A Captivating Romeo and Juliet At The Hartford Stage

 

by Bobby Franklin

“O Romeo, Romeo! – wherefore art thou Romeo?”

In answer to that question, Romeo, Juliet, and all of the Capulets and Montagues are on the Hartford Stage under the very fine direction of Darko Tresnjak.

This Romeo and Juliet is nothing short of superb.

This Romeo and Juliet is nothing short of superb. Written over 400 years ago, the Hartford’s production of Shakespeare’s work is fresh and alive. The beautifully talented Kaliswa Brewster in her “dream role” as Juliet couldn’t be more perfect in the role as the young Ms

Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)
Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)

Capulet who is taken with the handsome Romeo played by the equally talented Chris Ghaffari. The two are lovely to watch as their forbidden love blossoms. They perform their parts with much playful humor (the famous balcony scene is among the best and most original I have ever seen) on a versatile set inspired by the work of Italian neorealist cinema, think Rossellini and Visconti.

Romeo (Chris Ghaffari) and Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)
Romeo (Chris Ghaffari) and Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)

The first half of this beautiful play is joyful and light. It makes the audience relax and share in the excitement of the title characters as they become more and more enthralled with each other. We laugh and share in their joy. Of course, we are made well aware of the tension that exists between the two families, but some how we feel things will work out just fine. Yes, even knowing the story, our emotions follow that arc. It is the magic director Tresnjak is able to make happen on stage. It is not the first time I have seen him do this.

Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) and Tybalt (Jonathan Louis Dent)
Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) and Tybalt (Jonathan Louis Dent)

Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) is unlike any you have seen before. He is intense and, well, mercurial. And it is when he meets his end that our joyful mood takes a sudden and very real turn. “A plague on both your houses!” Again, it is that Darko magic at work. I observed laughter turn to tears in the audience as things descended into darkness because of the petty hatreds of the two families.

Friar Laurence (Charles Janasz)
Friar Laurence (Charles Janasz)

Charles Janasz brings wisdom and warmth to the part of Friar Laurence, and Kandis Chappell as Juliet’s nurse joins him in the failed and finally tragic attempt to reconcile things for the lovers and families. Our hearts break for them as well.

Everyone in the large cast is terrific, the set, with a balcony that extends and recedes from a wall designed after an Italian cemetery wall, and lighting are to the usual high standards of the Hartford. This production is a joy for all of the senses. Within minutes of the opening the theatergoers feel they are a part of all that is happening on the stage.

If you have seen Romeo and Juliet before do not miss this one as it is unlike any before. If you have never experienced it, there is no better time than now to see it for the first time, though I must warn you it may spoil you for future productions.

Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster) and Nurse (Kandis Chappell)
Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster) and Nurse (Kandis Chappell)

I have now attended enough Shakespeare productions directed by Darko Tresnjak at the Hartford to say his are by far the best in New England.

I urge you to take the short run down to Hartford to see this play. You’ll be sorry if you miss it.

Romeo and Juliet at The Hartford Stage through March 20th.

Info at www.hartfordstage.org Box Office 860-520-7114

Seaglass Chorale in Concert

Presents “Reflection and Meditation”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Merrill Auditorium, Portland

3 p.m.

I saw the Seaglass Chorale perform this work by Ola Gjeilo last year and it is positively beautiful. The music and photographs are a perfect match. The voices and orchestra soothe the soul.

 

“The voices and orchestra soothe the soul.”

 

Merrill Poster Updated Jan 2016Seaglass Chorale of southern Maine will present its debut concert, “Reflection and Meditation,” at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium under the direction of Jean Strazdes. The concert, scheduled for March 20, introduces the music of contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo to the Merrill audience and will be performed against a backdrop of images by Maine photographer Peter Ralston. Selections include Sunrise Mass, Across the Vast Eternal Sky, Dark Night of the Soul, and Luminous Night of the Soul.

 

The performance by the 49 member chorale will feature Kim Karchenes, piano; visual artist Stephanie Sanders and a nine member string ensemble.

Tickets are available through PortTIX for $38 with special rates for groups of 15 or more. For more information, see www.tickets.porttix.com, Email: www [dot] boxoffice [at] porttix [dot] com or call 207-842-0800.

Does Character Still Matter?

by Bobby Franklin

“Maybe our society could use a few old fashioned lessons in boxing and what it truly means to be an adult.”

For years parents looked for ways to build character in their children. Quite often sports was seen as one of the best ways for young men to learn the lessons of what it meant to truly be a man in the best sense of the word. Organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts were another institution that helped build character in young people in order to prepare them to enter adulthood equipped with the tools to live a decent and productive life where they would contribute to the betterment of society. There were many other ways that these lessons could be learned as well. Things from having an after school job such as working for a local business or having a paper route. These were all ways for young people to learn responsibility and to gain the skills needed to be able to interact with other people.

1940s Young Men Learning To Box
1940s Young Men Learning To Box

There were many ways to inculcate these values in our young people and they were used for years with much success. Unfortunately, many of these things are no longer in fashion. The Boy Scouts have been under assault for years and I can’t remember the last time I saw a young person delivering newspapers. After a snowstorm we no longer get a knock at the door from some eager young people ready to negotiate a price for shoveling the walk. Things have really changed.

I want to mention the connection my thoughts on this have to do with boxing, but first, one other observation.

As I write these words the leading candidates for both parties appear to be on their way to their respective nominations for president. According to polls, they both seem almost unstoppable. What also consistently shows up in polls is something very disturbing. The vast majority of voters, including those supporting both candidates, when asked about the character of each of these people consistently respond they find them both untrustworthy and dishonest. In spite of this they still say they will vote for them. In other words, character, that trait that was so important to Americans for so many years, no longer matters. It could be argued it is a detriment to success in today’s world. This is not only sad but dangerous for the future of our republic.

Joe Louis
Joe Louis

Now on to boxing and character. For most of the 20th Century it was almost impossible to find a man who hadn’t at some point while growing up had a pair of boxing gloves on and who had been given, at the very least, a few pointers in the Manly Art of Self Defense. These lessons were usually given by the young man’s father, but could also have been taught by an older brother, uncle, friend, or even a member of the clergy.

These lessons included, but were not limited to, being taught how to hold one’s hands in a defensive position, the proper use of the left jab, how to throw a one-two combination, and also some pointers in how to keep physically fit as taking care of one’s body was essential to being a good boxer.

Something else even more important was instilled during these lessons. That something else was how a real man carries himself. That with the knowledge of how to overpower someone and protect yourself also came the responsibility not to abuse that power. Never hit a man when he is down was a common refrain that would carry over from boxing into a valuable adage to in life to remind us to offer hand not a fist to someone who was having hard times.

Always fight fair even if the other guy doesn’t would be a constant reminder in life about not allowing yourself to be dragged down into the gutter by another’s ill behavior.

It was amazing how much could be learned from a few hours with the gloves on while listening to a mentor who would guide his student from the use of the right cross to never crossing his fellow man. It is sad that that world seems so far away now.

It is sad that that world seems so far away now.

I am not saying there weren’t always rogues, cutthroats, and dishonest people around able and willing to take advantage of any situation. It is just seems to me the public better understood the difference between good and bad and frowned upon those who would act outside of the society’s code of decency.

Boxing has often been called a reflection of society. I believe this is true. On one hand it has been populated by the poorest members of society, usually immigrants or those recently descended from those new to our shores. They often came from struggling and desperate circumstances. I think of Jack Dempsey who grew up almost in the wilderness and lived the life of a hobo having to literally fight just to feed himself and stay alive. Or of Joe Louis, the son of a sharecropper, who would make all American’s proud to have him as the Heavyweight Champion. In both these men we see examples of people who struggled and rose from nothing to gain great notoriety by using their fists. And in both these men we see how they handled the power they were given with dignity. They were both the type of men who inspired good things in others.

I am sure there are people like them around today, but those people are not being recognized in the way they should be. Mike Tyson, a totally base human being is lauded with a Broadway Show and an HBO special. Floyd Mayweather beats his wife and still makes countless millions of dollars. And the two potential nominees for the highest office in the world are deemed to be dishonest rogues by the very people supporting them.

Maybe our society could use a few old fashioned lessons in boxing and what it truly means to be an adult.

Patty Duke, May She Rest In Peace

Patty Duke, Rest In Peace
Patty Duke, Rest In Peace

Book Review: “Stars In The Ring”

“Stars In The Ring:
Jewish Champions In The
Golden Age Of Boxing” by Mike Silver

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

StarsMike Silver pegs the first four decades of the 20th Century as Boxing’s Golden Age. It was a period where the sport was at its peak in both popularity and talented participants. The boxers of the period were extremely well schooled. Most trainers considered themselves teachers, and were comparable to college professors in the seriousness they brought to teaching the fine art of pugilism.

Mr. Silver also considers this time in history a Golden Age for Jewish boxers. In his new book “Stars In The Ring: Jewish Champions In The Golden Age Of Boxing” (Lyons Press, 366 pgs., $29.95) he does a magnificent job of not only telling the story of the many great Jewish fighters, he also gives a concise and fact filled history of the overall sport of boxing.

Joe Choynski
Joe Choynski

The book is is divided up into an introduction, six chapters, and an extensive appendix. The introduction along with chapters one and two give a wonderful overview of the sport along with setting the background of how Jews became such a big part of boxing. It is filled with such interesting fact as pointing out how Jewish boxers who held world titles during the 1920s ranked only behind Italians but ahead of the Irish in numbers. There were close to 3,000 professional Jewish fighters active during the Golden Age. But make no mistake, “Stars In The Ring” is not just a compilation of statistics; it is a wonderful narrative of a very exciting time not only the history of boxing but also of our nation.

Barney Ross
Barney Ross

In the chapter entitled “The Melting Pot Sport” we learn much about the immigrant experience in America. The various ethnic groups that were at the lower rung of the economic ladder were proud of the fighters who shared their background. Often, matches pitted boxers from the different groups against each other.

Mr. Silver also discusses the Jewish fighters who took on Irish names, or a nom de box, when that became more advantageous for getting fights. There was another reason, perhaps more compelling, why young Jewish men would fight under an assumed named. I’ll quote the author, “Jewish boxers were brave and tough, but they did fear one personage above all others – their mothers.”

“Jewish boxers were brave and tough, but they did fear one personage above all others – their mothers.”
Benny Leonard
Benny Leonard

Benny Leonard was one such fighter. Leonard’s real name was Benjamin Leiner, but he changed it to keep his parents from finding out what he was doing for a living. When a black eye proved to uncover his activity he was quickly forgiven when he handed his father the purse from his evening’s work.

The book is filled with stories like that, but that is just the beginning. Chapters 3 though 6 break the sport up by its various eras. Each chapter begins with an overview of the time period that is extremely fact filled and interesting. These narratives  lead the reader biographies of many of the fighters from the period that has just been discussed.  There are also photographs of the participants. A total of 166 biographies are contained in the book. You will meet the young Charley Goldman, who has an official record of 129 fights, but is believed to have participated in over 400 bouts. If the name sounds familiar, it is because Charley went on to become one of the great boxing trainers, teaching world champions Lou Ambers, Joey Archibald, Marty Servo, and a kid from Brockton, MA named Rocky Marciano.

Georgie Abrams
Georgie Abrams

There is also Georgie Abrams whom Silver ranks as the greatest Jewish middleweight who ever lived. I think Sugar Ray Robinson would agree with that assessment as Abrams gave the great Robinson all that he could handle while losing a disputed decision to him.

Sid Terris, Al Singer, middleweight champion Al McCoy (real name Alex Rudolph), Abe Simon, Ruby Goldstein, Saoul Mamby, “The Fighting Dentist” Leach Cross, Herbie Kronowitz, and Victor Young Perez, who’s tragic story is both heartbreaking and inspiring, are just a few of the many fascinating biographies contained in this wonderful book.

Leach Cross
Leach Cross

Mike Silver could have left it at that and had an outstanding work, but he went even further by interspersing vignettes throughout the book discussing all sorts of boxing related subjects from boxing trading cards to boxing in the movies to a piece about the Shanghai Ghetto. The story of the ghetto in China was new to me and incredibly fascinating. You’ll also learn about the boxing careers of Entertainers Billy Joel and Woody Allen.

To top the book off, Mr. Silver has compiled an extensive appendix that contains, among many other things, his picks for the greatest Jewish boxers of all time. Given Mike’s extensive knowledge of the sport this list is one to be taken very seriously. I know I would not argue its merits with him. He also lists Jewish boxers that have competed in title bouts along with date, location, and results.

Charley Goldman
Charley Goldman

A very interesting section lists the Madison Square Garden Main Events that featured Jewish boxers from 1920 to 2014. It is a very long list. The appendix is an encyclopedia that boxing aficionados will find themselves referring to time and again.

I have to comment on the book as an object as well. When I opened the package it was mailed to me in I was astonished to see how pleasing to the eye it is. It is not a book to be left on a shelf. It is beautiful to hold and look through. Copiously illustrated with hundreds of amazing photographs it is a piece of art unto itself.

Mike Silver, who’s previous book “The Arc of Boxing” rates as one of the all time great works on the Sweet Science (I consider it the best) has not let his readers down with “Stars In The Ring”. This is a book to be displayed so that friends may share it when visiting. I guarantee it will be the cause for hours of interesting conversation. You can pick it up and turn to any page and find something interesting to read.

Mike Silver knows his boxing

Mike Silver knows his boxing, he also knows how to write, and that combination (pun intended) makes this book a joy to own.

If you are one of the many misguided souls who chuckle when you hear someone mention Jewish fighters, you will come away from this book with a healthy respect for the very tough and very honorable men who were Stars in the Ring.

Review: Passing Game: Benny Friedman and the Transformation of Football

Passing Game : Benny Friedman and the transformation of football. Murray Greenberg. New York: PublicAffairs, 2008), 358 pages. $26.95.

Reviewed by Len Abram

Passing Game
Passing Game

In 2005, eighteen years after NFL quarterback Benny Friedman died, coach Bill Walsh welcomed Friedman into the NFL Hall of Fame. In the long overdue induction, Walsh addressed Friedman as if he were in the audience:

“Benny, you were really the catalyst that started the forward pass in professional football … the person who demonstrated and proved to everyone that the forward pass can be effective and, more importantly, … consistently effective.

The forward pass had been around two decades before Benny Friedman took the melon-sized ball of the 1920s and made it into a formidable offensive weapon. Walsh acknowledged Friedman’s achievements: “[You] completed a good percentage of your passes and you got into the end zone …. You circumvented a lot of wear and tear on the players. So, I would say that Benny, you were really the person who changed the face of football.”

Today, Benny Friedman is hardly known as the person who changed the face of football. First-time author Murray Greenberg intends to right that wrong. For football fans, Greenberg also charts the history of the NFL from poor cousin to collegiate football into America’s favorite and richest sport. He also tells a story of American meritocracy, of a Jewish kid from Cleveland, son of Russian immigrants, who experienced national greatness – and a personal tragic end.

American football has always been a rough sport, an inheritance from English rugby. Long before we winced when Tom Brady’s knee snapped, football reveled in brutality, of hardened men with little safety equipment, who hurled their bodies at one another, sometimes with fatal results. In 1905, college football had 18 deaths and 159 serious injuries. President Theodore Roosevelt, who had led men in war and recognized the its value in strengthening bodies and character, intervened and saved football. One new rule promoted the forward pass, which could literally leap over the brutal grind of gaining yardage through contact and collision.

The bias of the game was still against the forward pass (the passer had to be five yards behind the line of scrimmage and an incomplete pass meant losing possession). In addition, the ball was hard to hold, let alone throw. Greenberg shows Friedman as a teenager strengthening the tendons and muscles of his hands and arms. Over time, he developed a method of passing and follow through that was the model for form and accuracy, emulated by quarterbacks since (the book jacket has frames of the passing style).

Benny Friedman
Benny Friedman
Friedman’s conditioning had to be superb.

Friedman’s conditioning had to be superb. High school, college and professional football players were required to play both offense and defense. Now the NFL has more specialists than the Mass General, but in the 1920s Friedman passed, carried, tackled, ran interference, and kicked extra points. Moreover, Friedman and his peers often played the whole game, and Friedman once played three games in one week. Players were lucky to earn $150 to $200 per game, whereas Friedman in his prime earned $750 (and thousands more in annual contracts).

Coaches and competitors marveled at Friedman’s ability to stay cool in the mayhem of the game and fire accurately to his receiver. In the evolution of American football, toughness and bravery are required, but intelligence decides success. To get Friedman onto the New York Giants, the owner of the Giants bought his entire lackluster team. Friedman turned the Giants into winners and money makers, even in the Depression. Sports writers referred to Friedman with 20 touchdown passes (his closest competitor had six) as a phenomenon, an observation that makes questionable his late inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

Friedman brought so much excitement and innovation to the game of football that by 1934 the NFL changed its rules about passing and the football itself. The ball became the sphere of today – easier to hold and especially to pass. Friedman did indeed change the face of football.

Friedman did indeed change the face of football.

Friedman’s many achievements and lasting influence are all the more remarkable given his Jewishness.

According to stereotypes around 1920, Jews could not compete in athletics. Friedman, however, did not consider himself a Jewish athlete, but an athlete who was Jewish. He was neither atypical or typical, just himself. Within a decade, Jews were making their mark in boxing and baseball. Friedman was chosen to be captain of his college team, the Michigan Wolverines. Hundreds of Jews across the country sent the young man telegrams of congratulations, and kids lined up for autographs. He was their hero and representative.

Like many of his generation, Friedman joined the military after Pearl Harbor. In his late 30s, Navy Lieutenant Friedman insisted on a combat tour on board ship during the Battle for Okinawa. After the war, he continued playing semiprofessional ball and coached professional football. Friedman then had another opportunity to be a hero for Jews. Because Abram Sachar wanted Brandeis to be a secular Jewish university, the new president believed a competitive football team would emphasize that point. Sachar pleaded with Friedman be its first – and as it turned out – last coach.

The faculty and student body perhaps never had Sachar’s passion for football and argued against its weak academics and high costs. One of the most outspoken students was radical Abbie Hoffman, whose values and politics were antagonistic to those of Friedman’s generation, and to what football represented. By 1959, Friedman felt betrayed by Sachar and Brandeis. The football program closed down, and eventually Friedman left.

Without much comment, Greenberg lets Friedman’s words and actions speak for themselves. Readers may find Friedman easier to admire than to like. His supreme confidence and his outspoken candor were not always appreciated. He could be petty. He also annoyed the NFL when he complained about its treatment of NFL veterans and when he promoted himself for the Hall of Fame – possible reasons for his late induction.

Friedman, however, is remarkable a long way from the football field. He lived his life on his own terms, even with severe illness. Religion and society cannot endorse his choice of suicide, but we can still admire how Benny Friedman played the game.

(This article originally appeared in the Jewish Advocate. Used here with permission of the author.)


 

 

 

 

TRINITY REP CLOSES SEASON WITH OKLAHOMA!

A fresh take on a classic helmed by 2015 Emmy Award winner Richard Jenkins and Sharon Jenkins May 5-June 5, 2016Oklahoma art 4 web

PROVIDENCE, RI: Trinity Rep closes out its 52nd season Rebels, Renegades and Pioneers with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, directed and choreographed by 2015 Emmy Award winner Richard Jenkins and Sharon Jenkins. Oklahoma! runs May 5-June 5, 2016.

At the turn of the 20th century in the western territories, cowboy Curly vies with mysterious farmhand Jud for the heart of Laurey, the woman they both love. Packed with humor, romance, square dances and an unforgettable score, Oklahoma! is a portrait of both the naiveté and complexity of American pioneer settlers.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have Richard and Sharon bringing their signature style and relentless approach to Oklahoma!,” artistic director Curt Columbus said of the pair that brought Trinity Rep’s critically acclaimed 2014 production of Oliver! to life. “They are an incredible team, because of their commitment to emotionally evocative story telling through world class acting. Richard and Sharon personify what it means to be Trinity Rep artists. This is sure to be an Oklahoma! unlike any other.”

The cast includes Trinity Rep resident acting company members Janice Duclos, Rebecca Gibel, Stephen Thorne, Charlie Thurston, Rachael Warren and Joe Wilson, Jr., with Shura Baryshnikov, Royer Bockus, Jon Cooper, Taavon Gamble, Tom Gleadow, Kevin Patrick Martin, Jude Sandy, Hannah Spacone and Stephen Ursprung.

The design team includes Michael Rice (music direction), Eugene Lee (set and lighting design), Toni Spadafora (costume design), Peter Sasha Hurowitz (sound design) and stage manager Kristen Gibbs.

Richard Rodgers (composer, 1902–1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (librettist/lyricist, 1895–1960) joined forces in 1943, creating the most successful partnership in American musical theatre. Oklahoma!, their first musical together, was the first of a new genre—the musical play—blending Rodgers’ sophisticated style of musical comedy with Hammerstein’s innovations in operetta. Oklahoma! was followed by Carousel (1945), Allegro (1947), South

Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), Me and Juliet (1953), Pipe Dream (1955), Flower Drum Song (1958) and The Sound of Music (1959). The team also wrote one movie musical, State Fair (1945; adapted to the stage, 1995), and one for television, Cinderella (1957; adapted to the stage, 2011). Their musicals have garnered awards including: Pulitzer Prizes, and Tony, Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy Awards, in addition to Drama Desk, Drama Critics’ Circle, Outer Critics’ Circle, Laurence Olivier, and Evening Standard Awards.

Director Richard Jenkins was a Trinity Rep acting company member for 14 seasons, starting in 1970. He served as artistic director for four seasons (1990-1994) and directed numerous productions during that time. Richard has appeared in over 60 feature films, the HBO drama series Six Feet Under, and has been nominated for three Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Independent Spirit Awards, a Critics Choice Award, a Gotham Award, and received a Satellite Award, a Spotlight Award, an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in The Visitor. Recent credits include the film God’s Pocket with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Trinity Rep’s own Peter Gerety, as well as his Emmy-winning role opposite Frances McDormand in Olive Kitteridge.

Director and choreographer Sharon Jenkins has worked as a choreographer on productions at Trinity Rep for over 40 years, where she has worked with artistic directors Adrian Hall, Richard Jenkins, Amanda Dehnert, Oskar Eustis, and Curt Columbus. She has choreographed The Music Man, Annie, West Side Story, The Fantasticks, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Cabaret, Camelot and Oliver!. Sharon spent 20 years as the dance director at Hope Arts Magnet School in Providence, 15 years as a dance specialist with the RI State Council on the Arts, 10 years as a dancer with RI Dance Rep, and 10 years as choreographer for The Arabella Project. In addition to her work at Trinity Rep, she has worked at Long Wharf Theatre, Arena Stage, Hartford Stage, Center Stage, South Coast Rep and was the choreographer for Paramount Pictures feature School Ties.

website at www.trinityrep.com

Music Review: Reflections and Meditation

 

Performed by Seaglass Chorale

Under The Direction of Jean Strazdes

Ola Gjeilo, Music

Peter Ralston, Photography

March 20, 2016

Merrill Auditorium

Portland, Maine

A Concert To Soothe The Soul

by Bobby Franklin

In 2015 I attended a performance of this work by the Seaglass Performing Arts in a church in Saco, Maine. It was done beautifully and I left that night feeling filled with peace. I really couldn’t imagine how they could do a better job with it.

Well, I returned to see the group again perform this work at the lovely Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine, and they have taken their performance to an even higher level. They were simply outstanding.

Under the direction of Jean Strazdes the chorale was near perfect.

Under the direction of Jean Strazdes the chorale was near perfect. The string musicians, many of whom were from the Portland Symphony Orchestra were a delight with Kim Karchenes on piano.

Terri Ralston, Jean Strazdes, Stephanie Sanders, and Peter Ralston
Terri Ralston, Jean Strazdes, Stephanie Sanders, and Peter Ralston

The music, Sunrise Mass, composed by Ola Gjeilo, will be new to most people but is soothing and joyful. Its world premiere took place in 2008 in Oslo. According to the program, Gjeilo’s intent and story of his Mass are expressed through the way in which the music comes across sonically. The text comes from the Ordinary of the Mass: Kyrie – The Sphere; Gloria – Sunrise; Credo – The City; Sanctus & Angus Dei – Identity and the Ground.

Sea Glass by Peter Ralston
Sea Glass by Peter Ralston

 During the concert, photographs of the MaineCoast by Peter Ralston were projected on a large screen above the singers and were in perfect sync with the music. Media artist Stephanie Sanders did a remarkable job placing the screen so audience members were able to see the performers and the photos at the same time. The voices, music, and visuals all blended together to convey a warmth and peacefulness that did indeed lead the listeners into a state of reflection and meditation.

Pentecost by Peter Ralston
Pentecost by Peter Ralston

Peter Ralston’s photos alone would be enough to inspire and calm,

Peter Ralston’s photos alone would be enough to inspire and calm,but when paired with the music of Gjeilo they are brought to life. Ms Sanders added motion to the still images which gave the feeling of having the audience step into the photographs. At times I found myself in a state of mind where I had let go of any negative feelings about life and was taken to a place of calm. It was truly magical.

Seaglass Chorale and Orchestra
Seaglass Chorale and Orchestra

Seaglass Performing Arts was founded in 1993 by Artistic Director Jean Strazdes, the Seaglass Chorale is a non-auditioned adult choral group of 50-60 voices and represents some 20 southern Maine communities. They regularly perform throughout the area with their accompanist, Kimberly Karchenes. They have also performed in Europe with trips to Rome, Venice, Innsbruck, and Budapest. Fortunately, they always return home.

For more information go to:

www.seaglassperformingarts.org

Peter Ralston’s photography has appeared in over 50 magazines. His work is regularly exhibited in galleries here and abroad. Recently, his work was added to the permanent collection of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. You can learn more about Mr. Ralston by going to www.ralstongallery.com

Next up for the Seaglass Chorale will be Pops Concert: It’s Showtime! This concert will feature music from Broadway musicals past and present. This performance will take place in May and is sure to be a fun evening. Check the Seaglass website for further information. You will not be disappointed.

Zale vs Cerdan

A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

by Bobby Franklin

Zale Cerdan (1)

In 1946 a French middleweight by the name of Marcel Cerdan arrived in the United States to campaign for a shot at the world title then held by Tony Zale. Zale would lose the title to Rocky Graziano in 1947 but regain it again the following year in his third fight of an epic trilogy he fought with the explosive punching Graziano.

When Cerdan first arrived on these shores he had an amazing record of 93 wins with only 2 losses, both of those losses came via disqualification. 54 of those victories came by the knockout route. While his record was impressive he was stil a bit of a mystery to American fight fans. He had defeated an aging Holman Williams, a very great fighter, but one who was nearing the end of his career.

In his American debut, Cerdan did not chose an easy mark for his opponent. He took on the very tough Georgie Abrams in Madison Square Garden. Georgie Abrams was another great fighter. He had  held the legendary Charlie Burley to a draw, and just two fights after his bout with Marcel he fought Welterwieght Champion Sugar Ray Robinson in a non title fight. Robinson was awarded a very disputed decision and would never face Abrams again.

The Cerdan vs Abrams bout was a blistering affair

The Cerdan vs Abrams bout was a blistering affairwith the Frenchman winning a close but unanimous decision. That night he proved he was worthy of the praise that preceded him form the European press.

After the Abrams fight Cerdan hit the road compiling 10 wins against 1 loss. That loss was in a fight for the European title against Cyrille Delannoit. Marcel would avenge that loss in a rematch earning himself a shot against champion Tony Zale also know as the Man of Steel.

Tony was a very hard punching fighter who never took a backwards step.

Tony was a very hard punching fighter who never took a backwards step. His three bouts with Rocky Graziano are considered among the greatest slugfests in boxing history. Tony had held the title since the early 1940s with the exception of the brief period when he lost it to Graziano. Tony had taken on all comers and even fought light heavyweight champion Billy Conn in a non-title fight.

The bout between the two was scheduled to take place on September 21, 1948 at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey. Everyone knew this would be a fight to see as neither contestant had ever been in a dull fight.

Now the reason for the title of this article has to do with the photo accompanying it. I got the picture from the great boxing historian Gregory Speciale.

This photo not only tells the story of the fight, but it also shows some very great moves, moves you will not see today, being executed. It also gives us some insight into Tony Zale on that night.

Right from the bell starting round one this was an exciting fight. Cerdan came out on fire. He was extremely quick and aggressive. While you would most likely describe him as a slugger, it should be pointed out that he used great head movement in slipping punches. Zale met him head on but was having trouble landing effectively. This is where the photo shows us something about the champion. If you look closely you will see Zale is throwing a very hard left jab, the only way he threw any punch. But notice how he appears to be lurching forward and is off his feet. This is a sign of an aged fighter. His legs no longer have the spring in them, and while he is throwing an excellent jab his legs are not carrying him in. Tony had had a long career at this point and his wars with Rocky Graziano had to have taken something out of him.

Now look at Cerdan. You will see that he has stepped slightly to his right and tilted his head to the outside of the jab. It appears he is about to deliver a left hook as he is shifting his weight at the hips from the right to left side of his body. He is also in perfect position to follow up with a right hand. On top of this, he is in great defensive position. While Zale is off balance and being driven forward by the force of his punch and the stiffness of his legs, Cerdan will still be in perfect position to throw more punches as Tony turns towards him. So much is going on in this photo which only captures a fraction of a second of the fight. You might also note how carefully the referee is monitoring the action. This is like viewing a master class in boxing.

This is like viewing a master class in boxing.

Watching footage of the fight is even more enlightening. While Cerdan dominated most of the bout, Zale was keeping the rounds close. Cerdan was amazing in his use of double and triple hooks, going to the head and body. He also countered beautifully with right hands over the champion’s left jab. Cerdan was very aggressive and fast. He was moving forward throughout most of the fight but at angles. He was throwing magnificent combinations, and was methodical in how he would go from body to head and back again.

Tony Zale, being the great champion that he was, looked like he might have been turning things around in the 7th round as it appeared Marcel was slowing down and Zale may have been changing the tide of the fight. Unfortunately for Tony, this would be his last stand. Cerdan began to pick up the pace again in the 8th round and really began turning it on in the tenth where he was battering the never say die Zale.

In the 11th round Cerdan was unleashing brutal and blistering combinations with incredible speed and power. Tony was taking an awful beating and was dropped by a vicious left hooks just before the bell rang ending the round. His seconds helped him to his corner where they wisely told the referee the fight was over.

Tony Zale went out like a true champion that night

Tony Zale went out like a true champion that night and would retire. Cerdan would have two non-title fights and then defend the title against Jake LaMotta. Marcel’s shoulder was seriously injured in the first round when he was thrown to the canvas by LaMotta. The champion fought on with just one arm until the 9th round when his corner stopped the fight.

A rematch was immediately scheduled, but Marcel Cerdan was killed in a plane crash while on his way to America for the fight.

Cerdan was a great fighter and a charismatic personality. If he won back the title he may very well have gone on to fight Sugar Ray Robinson in what would have been a very interesting fight. Fate stepped in and prevented us from learning just how great a fighter he was. But judging by what you van see in the Zale fight, even from that one photograph, you know you are looking at one of the best.

Review: Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X

By Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith

Basic Books, Hardcover, $28.99, 392 Pages

An Important Book About Two Flawed Men Who Influenced History And Boxing

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

 

Blood BrothersThere have been more books written about Muhammad Ali  than any other boxer, perhaps more than any other athlete. The vast majority of these books play into the Ali myth that has been orchestrated for years by many in the press as well as the former champ’s own publicity machine. Every so often an author digs in and takes an unbiased look at this very complicated man, and the truth is more interesting than the myth.

 

Two of these books, Mark Kram’s The Ghosts of Manila and Jack Cashill’s Sucker Punch: The Hard Left Hook That Dazed Ali and Killed King’s Dream, are among the best when it comes to uncovering the puzzle of understanding the real Muhammad Ali. Joining these works is the meticulously researched Blood Brothers by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith.

Delving into previously unviewed FBI files, the personal papers of Malcolm X, the notes of Alex Haley, and interviews from the past and present, the authors have written an important history of not only a tragic relationship, but also of the Nation of Islam (The Black Muslims) as well as a very interesting account of Cassius Clay’s early boxing career up to his bouts with Sonny Liston.

Malcolm and Cassius first met in 1962.

Malcolm and Cassius first met in 1962.Clay, after winning Olympic Gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics, was making a name for himself by not only winning fights, but by his unique self promotion influenced by the wrestler Gorgeous George. Malcolm had no interest in sports believing it was just another way that the white establishment exploited the black man in America. However, he was immediately taken by the young contender. In many ways they were similar in that both were outspoken, charismatic, and couldn’t resist the limelight. Malcolm also recognized what an asset Clay could be to the Nation. Having a popular and well-spoken athlete coming out in support of and even joining the Muslims would surely attract many new and young members. Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation didn’t share this view. He not only was not interested in athletes, he also believed Clay was going to be destroyed when he stepped into the ring against Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston. That would certainly not look good for the Muslims.

Roberts and Smith explain how Malcolm had from the beginning unwavering confidence that Clay would not only win the title, but would go on to become the Nation’s greatest asset. While he would prove to be right, it would also be his undoing.

Most people believe the Black Muslims are part of the Islamic religion practice throughout the world. In reality, under Elijah Muhammad, it was a Black Nationalist and separatist movement that was very much at odds with the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King. Muhammad considered King an Uncle Tom who was being subservient to the white establishment by demanding African Americans be fully integrated into society. The Muslims were envisioning an armed revolution with the goal of retribution and creating their own state.

There is much in this book that will make those who have looked up to Muhammad Ali as a great civil rights leader uncomfortable. For a large part of his career Clay/Ali preached separation of the races, though it can be argued his belief in this was not very deep but more of a young man taken in by a cult. It may have also been driven by fear. When asked why he was not joining in on the marches and demonstrations with Dr. King he responded that he did not want to go to a place where he would have dogs set upon him, be clubbed by the police, or worse. Also, once he was involved with the Nation he quickly learned about the punishment, quite often brutal, they would handout to those who did not stay in line.

It can also be questioned just how deep the friendship between Malcolm and Cassius was. The two were certainly very drawn to each other, but as much as Malcolm felt affection for Clay he also knew he would be a useful tool in advancing the cause and also Malcolm’s own stature within the Nation.

For Clay, Malcolm served as a father figure

For Clay, Malcolm served as a father figure one who could teach the barely literate boxer how to speak out on issues, even if he didn’t understand what he was talking about some of the time.

Malcolm’s biggest miscalculation was in believing his friendship and mentoring of Clay would protect him from retribution when he stepped beyond his bounds with the Nation. After Clay defeated Liston Elijah Muhammad also came to the realization of how useful Clay, upon whom he now bestowed the name of Muhammad Ali, would be to the Nation not only for propaganda purposes but as a financial asset.

Boxing has always been a shady sport with underworld figures in the background controlling and robbing fighters. Ali, who may have thought he was escaping being exploited by gangsters, had come under the control of another mob filled with hit men and leg breakers.

When Elijah Muhammad turned on Malcolm, Malcolm saw Ali as his protection only to have the champion turn his back on him. Ali joined in the chorus of those who wanted Malcolm punished and worse. Their friendship meant nothing to him any longer. He had a new father figure to please in Elijah.

The authors’ very detailed account of Malcolm’s last days, constantly under threat of assassination, is harrowing. Incidents such as when his home is firebombed while he, his wife, and two daughters are sleeping, make you feel what it is like to be a hunted man with very few friends.

 

A couple of minor points on the content. The authors describe the Nigerian born Hogan Kid Bassey as former world bantamweight champion. Bassey held the featherweight title. In the chapter about the lead to Clay’s first fight with Liston they say that Sonny stood to make millions from the fight. I don’t recall any heavyweight champ from that era making millions from one bout. I would be curious to know how they determined that figure. Neither of these two items takes anything away from this very fine book.

This is an important book that will leave you rethinking your opinion of Muhammad Ali.

This is an important book that will leave you rethinking your opinion of Muhammad Ali.It is in no way an attack on one of the greatest fighters of all time. It is an unbiased look at a flawed human being and a tragic friendship that will leave you asking. What if?

Seaglass Presents: It’s Showtime – Opening Night

The Seaglass Chorale In Concert

SeaglassFresh off of their very successful performance, Reflections and Meditations, Seaglass Chorale turns to the Broadway stage for their next concert. Under the direction of Jean Strazdes the group will present a selection of music from a number of the great musicals including Wicked, The King and I, and Fiddler On The Roof. 

There will be two performances. The first will take place on Saturday, May 7th at Christ Church, Dane Street, Kennebunk, ME beginning at 7:00 P.M.

The second concert will be held the following day which is Mothers’ Day and will take place at the Wells Historical Society, 938 Post Road, Wells, ME. The performance begins at 3:00 P.M. and as a special treat, all the mothers in attendance will receive a special Mothers’ Day carnation

Kim Karchenes will be featured on piano accompanying the lovely voices of the Seaglass Chorale.

This promises to be a wonderful concert

This promises to be a wonderful concert and a very special treat for the Mothers’ Day weekend.

Tickets are priced at $15.00 for adults and $12.00 for children and seniors. They may be reserved by calling 207-985-8747 or by going to seaglass [at] gwi [dot] net

Springs Toledo Delivers With In “The Cheap Seats: Boxing Essays”

Boxing Writing At Its Best In This Fine Collection 

by Bobby Franklin

Springs Toledo is back with another collection of essays on boxing.

Springs Toledo is back with another collection of essays on boxing. In 2014 his first collection, The Gods of War, was widely acclaimed. It has joined the ranks of boxing classics.

With this latest collection, In The Cheap Seats, he has created another contender. I am not sure it will go on to winning a world title the way The Gods Of War did, but it certainly deserves a wide readership.

In The Cheap Seats
In The Cheap Seats

Many of the essays contained in this latest work by Mr. Toledo focus on more recent fights and fighters. Springs makes connections with the styles and personalities of past greats and those vying for greatness today. He does a fine job of this, but I have a hard time buying a lot of the comparisons. Maybe I am just old and cranky, but to me the glory days of boxing have long passed. While Springs does a wonderful job of linking the past with the present, he knows boxing history and understands the art, I sometimes found myself questioning if he truly believed what he was writing or was trying to convince himself as much as his readers about the quality of today’s sport.

He points out how when Henry Armstrong held three world titles simultaneously there were only a total of eight recognized divisions. It is staggering to look back on that time with the competition Armstrong faced and comprehend his accomplishment. Springs has written about the proliferation of divisions and titles that exist today which makes having a multi belt holder nowhere near the challenge it was in Armstrong’s time, so I wonder why he felt if Floyd Mayweather had added a middleweight title to his array of belts it would have put him up there in stature with the great Henry Armstrong. I am not trying to take anything away from Floyd, but it is a very different sport now than it was in 1938. Again, maybe I am just too jaded to get excited about almost anything in today’s world of boxing.

In The Cheap Seats has many other great essays contained between its covers.

Mr. Toledo’s piece on Bruce Lee and the influence boxing had on him is fascinating to read.

Mr. Toledo’s piece on Bruce Lee and the influence boxing had on him is fascinating to read.Not only does he explain how Lee adapted his martial arts style because of boxing, but, and here is where Springs’ knowledge of the fine points of the Sweet Science come into play, he explains the difference in defensive posture that gives a boxer the upper hand. It is essays like this that set him apart from so many of those who think they know the sport and try to write about the mechanics of boxing. I once remember a self appointed authority on boxing giving a lecture and telling the audience that it was impossible for a boxer to throw a double left hook. These pretenders should not be allowed to use up the perfectly good paper that could be utilized by writers like Springs Toledo.

I found myself really getting into the rhythm of Toledo’s writing when he was recounting a conversation he had in Hyannis, MA with former welterweight contender George Maddox. Using the magic of his pen Springs captured the humanity of this wonderful man. I know George and what I read could only be compared to a fine portrait of him painted by a great artist. This is Springs at his best, describing the movements and words of an eighty-one year old former boxer who still takes great pride in his accomplishments. In just a few paragraphs you will come to know George Maddox. You will also feel the respect the author has for such men. It is beautiful stuff.
There is much more to savor in this collection. In Where Have You Gone Harry Greb? you find out why the Pittsburgh Windmill is rated by Springs as the greatest pound for pound fighter ever.

You get the inside scoop on the sparring sessions between Greb and Jack Dempsey

You get the inside scoop on the sparring sessions between Greb and Jack Dempsey that will lead you to seriously wonder if Harry could have taken the Manassa Mauler. I believe Springs thinks Harry could have done it. I think it would have been a great fight and a difficult one for Jack, but his strength would have won the battle.

You’ll also get to read interesting pieces about how if boxing was more widely taught there could be less need for people to use guns. This subject is discussed in the context of the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin tragedy. Springs strips away the knee jerk emotions on all sides of the controversy and takes a measured look at how to prevent such things from happening. It is a refreshing piece to read in this age of media sensationalism.

There is even a chapter devoted to the effects a vegetarian diet can have on punching power. Being a vegetarian myself it has made me want to get to the gym and test out my old left hook.

Springs closes out his fine collection with a piece about Mae West and her connection with the boxing world. It is a very interesting piece about a one of a kind personality, and will go down as a classic.

Springs Toledo
Springs Toledo

While I find it difficult to share Springs Toledo’s love of present day boxing, I do enjoy his writing. He is a throwback, an old school writer along the lines of A.J. Leibling whom he admires. Throw in a dash of Raymond Chandler and stir it up with Springs’ own unique style and you have a writer who leaves you wanting more. Many younger readers of these essays will be hearing about the greats of the past for the first time. I hope, and believe they will, be inspired to find out more about the rich history of this great sport.

Jim McNally: Teaching Old School Boxing To A New Generation

 

by Bobby Franklin

Gentleman Jim McNally
Gentleman Jim McNally

Driving up to Jim McNally’s gym in North Reading on a cloudy Tuesday in April I am on the phone with the former professional boxer explaining why I am running late. In the course of our brief conversation I find out Jim’s father Bernie, who was a hard punching heavyweight fighting out of Cambridge during the 1940s, trained at the Cambridge YMCA. My father, who was a professional wrestler, worked out there at the same time. We spent some time going over mutual acquaintances our father’s had and soon realized they must have known each other. Another of those it’s a small world experiences.

I arrive at Jim McNally Boxing a short while later. The sign outside of the former industrial building says Old School Fitness. Jim greets me as I enter and I immediately feel as if we have known each other for years. He looks like he’s at his fighting weight and could go ten rounds without a problem.

Jim McNally
Jim McNally

Gentleman Jim, as he was known during his fighting days, had an impressive professional career racking up 19 wins against only 1 loss. His quest for glory came to an end due to an injury received in an auto accident. Before turning pro Jim had an outstanding amateur career, He won the NE AAU heavyweight title in 1975 and 1976, then won the light heavyweight title in 1977 which took him to the National Finals in Hawaii. Yes, I was feeling just a bit envious. Jimmy also lost a split decision to future World Heavyweight Champion Tony Tubbs in the 1976 Calgary Games. Not bad for a local kid.

After ending his boxing career McNally went to Northeastern University then on to serve 4 years with the Wilmington Police Department, 7 years with the Secret Service, and finally a 22 year career with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). After his years of public service Jim opened the boxing gym, returning to the sport he had never lost his passion for.

Jim with Gene Beraldi and Danny Cronin
Jim with Gene Beraldi and Danny Cronin

As we continue our talk, gym members start showing up for their workouts. Jim tells me he doesn’t have a firm schedule for classes, “I run a class every four minutes” he tells me. What I observe is something not seen in a lot of boxing gyms today, something that is much more old school. As each aspiring boxer comes into the gym he or she goes right to work. They wrap up their hands and start going through the boxer’s workout. Shadow boxing, heavy bag, speed bag, calisthenics, skipping rope. I am impressed by how self-motivated they all are, but I am not surprised as Jim has instilled that drive in all of them.

As I listen to a couple of young students drumming the speed bag with a steady rat-a-tat, I ask Jim how long they have been training at his gym. “Just a couple of months for one and a little longer for the other.” They look like old pros as their hands move in rapid fashion against the small bag.

I mention to Jim how many boxing gyms either do not have any speed bags or, if they do, discourage the use of them.

This sport is rhythm, your own rhythm.

“This sport is rhythm, your own rhythm.You learn rhythm on the speed bag.” I couldn’t agree more.

The McNally Boxing Gym has a regulation size canvas floored ring in which I observe trainer Gene Beraldi doing pad work with a number of the members. I am not a big fan of the punch mitts, but the trainers at McNally’s are not just standing flatfooted in front of the boxers letting them plant punches. Instead, they are moving around the ring forcing them to use footwork and accuracy. That’s the old school touch.

As I look around I see an familiar face from years back. It is Danny Cronin who is here training his sons. Danny and I go back to the New Garden Gym days and we immediately start to reminisce about the old times. Danny was a very successful pro and one of the hardest punchers to ever lace on the gloves. Jim chimes in to say how his mother told him

“Boxing made your nose look better, it was kind of pointy.”

“Boxing made your nose look better, it was kind of pointy.”

The young people who come to McNally’s Gym not only get to experience what it is like to be in an old school boxing gym, they also learn lessons bout life, which is something boxing, when taught properly, instills in people. I like very much something Jim said while we were talking,

“Boxing is about overcoming obstacles – obstacles you put in your own way.”

“Boxing is about overcoming obstacles – obstacles you put in your own way.”That statement is true on so many levels.

As the time winds down for my visit I ask the young pugs who have just finished working out how they feel about the workout. “It’s fun.” “I feel tired but good.” I can tell by the smiles on their faces they have all had a great time. I can also see the admiration they have for Jim McNally who has time for all of them.

Jim With His Mother and Father
Jim With His Mother and Father

Jim, who has been going through some tough times with the loss of one brother and a cancer diagnosis for another tells me “Thank God for my gym. If I didn’t have this I don’t know what I’d do.” In almost Buddhist fashion, the good Jim gets from his gym is returned by him a hundred fold to those who come there. McNally, who sparred a couple of hundred rounds with Marvin Hagler, proved his toughness years ago. Everyday he shows his goodness.

Jim McNally’s Gym is located at 48 Main Street, North Reading. For more information call 978-664-1900. People of all ages are welcome.

Let It Be – A Celebration of the Music of The Beatles

Kicks Off The Ogunquit Playhouse 2016 Season

Let It Be - A Celebration of The Beatles (Photo Paul Coltas)
Let It Be – A Celebration of The Beatles
(Photo Paul Coltas)

You know summer is fast approaching when the Ogunquit Playhouse opens its doors for the season. This year they are are kicking off an exciting season with Let It Be – A Celebration of the Music of The Beatles. The show will run from May 18 to June 11 and promises to be an exciting evening of music from the Fab Four.

The tribute show follows the Beatles from their beginnings in Liverpool’s Cavern Club through the heights of Beatlemania, to their later masterpieces. Let It Be includes forty of the Beatles’ greatest hits including “Twist and Shout”, “She Loves You”, “Yesterday”, “Come Together”, as well as the title tune “Let It Be”.

Let It Be has played London’s West End and Broadway and will now get the full Ogunquit Playhouse treatment, so i am sure you will not be disappointed.

The cast of Let It Be includes Michael Gagliano, who has is spent the last 15 years perfecting his performances of the Beatle’s music on some of the world’s biggest stages from Liverpool’s Cavern Club to the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, as well as on television all over the world; Neil Candelora, who as a six year old he saw a recording of The Beatles performing on The Ed Sullivan Show and decided to learn to play guitar left handed; JT Curtis, who made his Broadway debut in Let It Be and has performed with several Beatles tribute acts from Los Angeles to New York; Chris McBurney, who also reprises his role from the Broadway production of Let It Be and has toured as a drummer and multi-instrumentalist all over North America, Europe and Japan with numerous acts, while continuing to perform and record in New York.

The Music Director for Let It Be is Daniel A. Weiss, a New York City based musician who was most recently seen music directing and arranging for a sold out performance of West End Recast in London, a concert featuring many of the West End’s finest singers. Mr. Weiss was the assistant musical director and associate conductor for the original Broadway company of Rent.  He has a multitude of Broadway credits for both conducting and/or performing, including Let It Be, Motown the Musical, Godspell, Hair, Taboo, Hairspray and Brooklyn.

Contact the Playhouse for tickets including information about season packages.

Go to:www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call 207-646-5511

 

“Oklahoma!” At The Trinity Rep

 

Oh, What A Beautiful Production

This is an Okalahoma! not to be missed.

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Charlie Thurston as Curly and Rachael Warren as Laurey (center) Photo by Mark Turek
Charlie Thurston as Curly and Rachael Warren as Laurey (center)
Photo by Mark Turek

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Okalahoma!, now playing at the Trinity Rep in Providence, RI is an outstanding production of one of the greatest musicals of all time. It is staged in an intimate atmosphere that along with the stage, includes three platforms that are placed among the audience, and where much of the cast spends time during the performance. It works beautifully.

From the moment Curly, played by the very talented Charlie Thurston, steps onto the stage to sing Oh, What A Beautiful Morning, you know this is going to be a joy to watch.

Mr. Thurston has a perfect voice for the role

Mr. Thurston has a perfect voice for the role and the acting ability to go with it. He is joined by Rachel Warren as Laurey, and they are wonderful together; you would think the roles were created for just them. They sparkle and hearing them sing is delightful.

Judd (Joe Wilson) and Curly (Charlie Thurston) Photo by Mark Turek
Judd (Joe Wilson) and Curly (Charlie Thurston)
Photo by Mark Turek

There is a dark side to Okalahoma! that is seen in the character of Judd Fry played by Trinity regular Joe Wilson, Jr. Mr. Wilson uses his excellent acting abilities to bring a humanity to a very dark figure in the play. I have not seen many productions of the play, but I do know that Joe was able to evoke sympathy from the audience for Judd, whom many will remember mostly as the evil creature portrayed by Rod Steiger in the movie version. With his subtle and pained expressions he brought a depth to a character that deserves to be better understood, and, in this version, is.

This is not, of course, a full scale Broadway production, but in many ways it is better. It does have an orchestra consisting of six musicians who are as good as any you will hear. They are on the mark throughout the play, and you couldn’t ask for more.

Rebecca Gibel as Ado Annie Carnes and Stephen Thorne as Ali Hakim Photo by Mark Turek
Rebecca Gibel as Ado Annie Carnes and Stephen Thorne as Ali Hakim
Photo by Mark Turek

The entire cast is nearly flawless. Janice Duclos as Aunt Eller conveys a strength of character and kindness. Stephen Thorne in the role of Ali Hakim keeps us smiling as the traveling salesman who is trying to avoid a shotgun wedding. Jude Sandy as Will Parker makes the audience feel like shouting to him as the character seems determined to keep making the wrong decisions. Jude is always just one step away from losing everything.

Finally, included in this great cast is Rebecca Gibel as Ado Annie.

Ms Gibel has talent, real talent.

Ms Gibel has talent, real talent.She is funny, sings beautifully, and can act. The way she conveys Annie’s pent up sexuality by using body tremors along with her facial expressions and absolutely entrancing eyes is just breathtaking. Oh, and she is funny, very funny. In a cast that is abundant with talent, Rebecca Gibel showed that she has what it takes to go far. I look forward to seeing her as she continues on what should be a marvelous career.

This is an Okalahoma! not to be missed. It is warm and intimate. It is full of life’s good and bad. Be good to yourself and travel the short distance to Providence to see this play. You will not be disappointed.

 

Directed and Choreographed by Richard and Sharon Jenkins

Playing through June 5th

Box Office: 401-351-4242 www.trinityrep.com

SpeakEasy Stage’s Dogfight: Solid, Touching, Emotional

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

SpeakEasy Stage Company is closing out their 25th anniversary season with a very strong production of Dogfight directed by Paul Daigneault. The New England premiere of the musical is based on the 1991 film and screenplay by Bob Comfort, and with music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Hey Good Looking' Photo: Glenn Perry Photography
Hey Good Looking’
Photo: Glenn Perry Photography

Most of the story takes place on November 21, 1963 and focuses on three young Marines, Eddie Birdlace, Bernstein, and Boland who refer to themselves as the Three Bees. They are to be deployed the following morning to Southeast Asia and are embarking on a game the Marines call Dogfight. It is where each recruit puts up money that is pooled and will be awarded to the man who can bring the ugliest woman to a party they are having. It is demeaning to women but also serves the purpose of removing any sense of empathy from men who are about to be sent into combat.

Eddie and Rose (Glenn Perry Photography)
Eddie and Rose
(Glenn Perry Photography)

Eddie, (Jordan J. Ford) finds waitress Rose Fenny (Alejandra M. Parrilla) at a local dinner and sweet talks her into attending the party with him in the hope he has found his winning date. Rose is caught up in his flattery and is thrilled to go. The others are also finding their mates for the evening.

It would be easy to settle in at this point and see this play as being about women being objectified. It runs much deeper than that. While what the Three Bees and the other soldiers are doing is cruel, it is also juvenile and demeaning to them as well. But, they are required to give up much of their sense of humanity considering they will soon be in a very inhumane environment. They are young and, because of their weeks of basic training, feel prepared for anything the world will throw at them. Instead of this being about a group of young men acting like jerks,

it has much more serious overtones considering what is about to happen in their lives

it has much more serious overtones considering what is about to happen in their livesand in the world.

Rose is no victim. While she is deeply hurt when she finds out what Eddie was up to, she is also touching him deeply with her warmth and confidence. Eddie at first saw an overweight and insecure girl, but fast begins to learn much about himself and life from Rose. He finds it is not so easy to be cruel. As the story unfolds we are touched on many emotional levels. As one audience member stated after the performance, “I have learned to always bring a box of tissues to a SpeakEasy production.”

The play does have a number of funny and warm moments that will make you smile. Alejandra M. Parrilla as Rose and Jordan J. Ford as Eddie are simply wonderful in the restaurant scene where Rose shows she can match Eddie’s tough guy bravura as well as add a very strong wit. Her kindness is also infectious and is breathed in by Eddie. Their touching duet First Date, Last Night sung while gazing at San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge is a beautiful love song.

As the story moves forward in time, much has to be compressed and Director Paul Daigneault does magnificent job of putting so much into so short a time on stage. It really is a bit overwhelming but important as it conveys so many feelings that force us to think hard about all we have just seen.

Ms Parrilla and Mr. Ford are supported by a solid cast

Ms Parrilla and Mr. Ford are supported by a solid castthat includes Jared Troilo (Boland) and Drew Arisco (Bernstein). Patrick Varner will be suffering from a multi personality disorder after playing seven parts, but he handles every one of them just fine.

The theater is set with the audience sitting on three sides of the stage. This, along with two movable staircases, is extremely effective. A beautiful score, fine musical direction, and the intimate atmosphere along with this cast have very talented young actors makes this a play not to be missed.

I know I often say this after seeing a SpeakEasy production, but I left the theater with much to think about, and with much to feel.

We are lucky to have such a great company in Boston.

We are lucky to have such a great company in Boston.I hope you go down to the Calderwood Pavilion and spend a couple of hours being touched by these fine young actors.

Playing through June 4th at The Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street, South End, Boston

617-933-6100

http://www.bostontheatrescene.com/season/dogfight/

 

 

 

 

The Beatles Rock The Stage At The Ogunquit Playhouse

 

84th Season Blasts Off Like A Rocket

Let It Be – A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Wow! Let It Be – A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles is burning up the stage at the Ogunquit Playhouse. This is not simply a tribute band performing Beatles’ songs; it is

a solid theatrical production that brings us back in time

a solid theatrical production that brings us back in timeand allows us to experience Beatlemania from its very beginnings and on up to the post band day when each member was working on his own.

Let It Be (Photo: Julia Russell)
Let It Be
(Photo: Julia Russell)

From the opening number, I Saw Her Standing There, you know you are in for more than just a night of nostalgic music. These five extraordinarily talented musicians, Neil Candelora (Paul McCartney), Michale Gagliano (John Lennon), Chris McBurney (Ringo Starr), JT Curtis (George Harrison) and Daniel A. Weiss (Keyboards) were tight and sharp. They were not only able to recreate the music, but they each also took on the look and personalities of the Fab Four at the different stages of their careers.

The show opens with the band playing behind a mesh material in what represents the Cavern Club in Liverpool where the boys got their start. The stage has two large television monitors in the style of early sets perched atop two gigantic transistor radios on each side of the stage. Live shots of the Ogunquit stage are seen on these screens interspersed with vintage footage from the various eras the Beatles played in. This is very effective and brings back so many memories of all that occurred during the group’s rise in popularity. We relive their appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show along with their sold out performance at Shea Stadium where they stood before over 55,000 screaming fans.

That excitement fills the Playhouse.

That excitement fills the Playhouse.
All the early numbers are there including Please Please Me, All My Loving, I want to hold Your Hand, and She Loves You. A marvelous animation accompanies A Hard Day’s Night, that is vintage perfect.

The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band set is breathtaking

The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band set is breathtakingwith the boys dressed up in full regalia to bring the album cover to life. It is magical. Projections on the back wall along with amazing lights that spin in multi colors on both the stage and the audience make this a very interactive show. John (Michale Gagliano) constantly eggs on the audience and gets a fantastic response. He looks like he is having a great time, and I think he would have stayed all night. This show will have you on your feet rocking with the Beatles for a good portion of the over two hours they are performing more than forty songs. You’ll be surprised at how well you know the lyrics as you sing along.

Let It Be (Photo: Julia Russell)
Let It Be
(Photo: Julia Russell)

JT Curtis as George not only has a wonderful voice, but he is a very talented guitar player. His solos on Here Comes The Sun and My Sweet Lord were fantastic, but his guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps was classic. The boys joked that Eric Clapton might make a surprise visit the evening I was there, but since he didn’t, JT certainly kept him from being missed.

Towards the latter half of the show the performance shifted to a what would it have been like if the Beatles had had a reunion mode. This could have been risky, but it worked just fine as the band got together and played the songs they had each written after having gone their own ways. This is just how it might have been. Chris McBurney (Ringo) was right on doing It Don’t Come Easy while perched high up on the drums.

Neil Candelora was Paul McCartney

Neil Candelora was Paul McCartneyon Band On The Run.

The entire cast captured the Beatles throughout every step of their careers as both a band and solo artists. We see them age before our eyes and got to, for those of us old enough to remember, see so much of what we grew up with. When I’m Sixty-Four had a very special meaning for many in attendance.

You would think all I described here would have been plenty, but they were not through yet. The Beatles, and by now I was fully convinced I was spending the evening with the Beatles, kicked off a tribute set to the greats that influenced them including Chuck Berry and Little Richard. They ripped out, with the crowd dancing and screaming their approval.

The Fab Four (Photo: Julia Russell)
The Fab Four
(Photo: Julia Russell)

I now feel like a late night television ad man when I am saying there was still more. The title song, Let It Be, was as touching as ever. Hey Jude had everyone singing along, and Back In The USSR sent us out rocking.

I would also like to note that during the performance of Imagine the boys asked the audience to light up their cell phones and wave them during the song. What fun.

Daniel A. Weiss on keyboard is also the Music Supervisor, and he was also outstanding. This was a tremendous amount of music to present in one evening. Add to that the whole theatrical aspect of the show and this was one huge challenge. This team pulled it off on the stage of the Ogunquit Playhouse. Just incredible!

What a start to the season. I would urge all of you to

make tracks north and catch this show

make tracks north and catch this show. I would also strongly suggest you buy a season subscription to the Playhouse. If this is any indication, it is going to be a very exciting year in Ogunquit.

Let It Be – A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles

Through June 11th

Ogunquit Playhouse 207.646.5511

www.ogunquitplayhouse.org
Video:

Walk Like A Boxer

by Bobby Franklin

There was a time when you could tell a man was a boxer just by seeing him walking. You might be in a restaurant or hanging out on a street corner when a guy would walk by and you could see in his step that he had spent time in the ring. I’m not talking about a fighter who may have taken too many punches and was “walking on his heels”. I’m talking about the light step that most boxers possessed in the days before they were trained to bulk up using weights and muscle building. A well-trained and conditioned boxer was always thinking about staying loose and limber. Even years after retiring, you would see that same agile way of moving in a former boxer. (I’m not sure former boxer is an appropriate term as it is something that, once you have done it, stays in your blood all of your life.)

“Stay away from the weights” was a line heard often from the old time trainers, “They only make you tight and slow.” Back in the days when boxing was taught as an art and not a strong man contest, speed, accuracy, and staying loose was emphasized. “Speed beats power”, “If you are too tense you will be more susceptible to being knocked out”, “Get up on your toes and move”, “Stick and move”, I can still hear these words echoing in my head from my days in the various boxing gyms I trained in.

Now, many people may think I am just talking about the stick and move boxers, but you will see this in the vast majority of boxers regardless of their style.

The ferocious Jack Dempsey moved like a cat stalking his prey.

The ferocious Jack Dempsey moved like a cat stalking his prey.In the Willard fight he is darting in and out. His body is lean and not muscle bound. He has a boxer’s physique, strong in all the right places without being encumbered by bulging muscles that would only slow him down.

Gregorio Peralta and Jack Dempsey
Gregorio Peralta and Jack Dempsey

When I was young I got to meet Dempsey in NYC. To this day I remember seeing him walking through his restaurant to greet visitors. He was up there in age and suffering from arthritis in his hips, but he still moved as if he were gliding across the floor, ready to move left or right and throw a counterpunch. Jack Dempsey still had it.

Today’s boxers are missing out on so much with the focus being on building up muscle. Weight trainers are brought in and muscle is layered on. While a fighter has to be strong, there are different types of strength. So often now a days, the spectacle that takes place at the weigh in before a match looks more like a pose-off at a body building competition with the fighters tensing and pumping up their muscles while mugging for the cameras. These bulky muscles are not only useless in the ring, but they are actually a hindrance as they make it almost impossible to use proper punching technique. It also results in more arm punches being tossed than shots that come from the hips with the full force of the body behind them. Fighters are also more susceptible to being knocked out because of how tight they are. It is much more difficult to “roll with the punches” when carrying that kind of muscle. Of course, that is pretty much a moot topic seeing that fighters are no longer taught defensive moves such as that.

I recently watched a brief video of Jake LaMotta training for a fight. It showed him climbing the stairs up to Bobby Gleason’s Gym in The Bronx where he was working out. Now Jake is hardly remembered as a dancing master, but you can see how light he is on his feet as he bounds up the steps. After the workout, he is seen outside walking down the street. If you had no idea who he was you would still know he was a boxer by the way he was moving along the sidewalk.

If you had no idea who he was you would still know he was a boxer by the way he was moving along the sidewalk.

Why the difference between those fighters from earlier days and the boxers of today? Well, when you went into a gym years back you would see fighters shadow boxing, moving in front of a mirror practicing their form, stretching and shaking out their arms and legs. They were very focused on staying limber. When they would hit the heavy bag they would “work it”, which meant boxing it. Instead of just standing in front of the bag they would circle it and practice footwork as well as punching. In the older gyms there was usually space around the bag so the fighters would have room to do this. In many gyms today the bags are lined up close to each other. Now, you often see fighters just standing flatfooted in front of the bag, their feet planted while they are winding up with punches that are telegraphed as if they were being sent by Western Union. It’s no wonder that is happening since most of the time they spend working with a trainer is wasted while going through the silly mitt punching routine that reinforces these bad habits.

A good boxer has to know how to use his entire body. He needs the grace of a ballet dancer combined with the reflexive power of a trip hammer. Most importantly, he has to be taught how to think in the ring, not to just go through mindless motions. Think, stay loose, find rhythm, treat the sport like the art form it once was.

Ali Running
Ali Running

When I was a young boxer I hated doing road work, today it is called running. Most of us disliked it back then but knew it was important so we did it. As much as I hated it, whenever I saw a clip of Muhammad Ali out on the road it inspired me to go out and put in a few miles. Why? Because Ali encompassed why it was called “road work”. He would be running with a step as light as Bill Rogers, turning on his toes, running backwards and forwards while throwing punches; all the time staying loose. It was beautiful watching him move. I’ll bet he never lifted a weight in his entire life, but he had the kind of strength a great fighter possesses.

Those days are now long in the past.

Boxing has changed, and it is not for the better.

Boxing has changed, and it is not for the better.You can no longer spot a fighter by the way he walks. That is because they are no longer artists and the sport is no longer an art form. It is sad.

Broadway’s Andrea McArdle to Star as Reno Sweeney in Ogunquit Playhouse Production of Anything Goes

Opens June 15th

Andrea McArdel and Company in Anything Goes (photo by Jeff Bellante)
Andrea McArdel and Company in Anything Goes (photo by Jeff Bellante)

 Ogunquit, ME—The Ogunquit Playhouse sets sail with the delightful, Tony Award-winning Anything Goes June 15 to July 9. This splendid madcap musical comedy stars Broadway’s Andrea McArdle as Reno Sweeney and features two-time Emmy Award winner Sally Struthers as Evangeline Harcourt. This tap-happy classic finds a brassy nightclub singer, a starry-eyed stowaway and Public Enemy No. 13 booked on a transatlantic luxury liner bound for romance and hilarity. When the S.S. American heads out to sea, etiquette and convention get tossed out the portholes.

Topping off the fun is Cole Porter’s delightful, delicious, “De-Lovely” first-class score

Topping off the fun is Cole Porter’s delightful, delicious, “De-Lovely” first-class scorethat includes some of musical theatre’s greatest hits, including “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “You’re The Top,” and of course, “Anything Goes.” Anything Goes features music and lyrics by Cole Porter with original book by Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse and new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman.

 

Andrea McArdle returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse to portray Reno Sweeney. She was last seen at the Playhouse in 2006 as Sally Bowles in Cabaret and in the 2009 production of Les Miserables. She first captured the hearts of theatergoers everywhere in 1977 when she originated the title role in the mega-musical Annie and became the youngest performer ever to be nominated for a Tony Award as Best Lead Actress in a Musical. Since then, she has starred in several Broadway musicals including Jerry Herman’s Jerry’s Girls alongside Carol Channing and Leslie Uggams; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express; as Margy Frake in State Fair; as Fantine in Les Miserables and, most recently, as Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. She has also appeared in theatres in New York, nationally and internationally and has performed in concert halls from Carnegie Hall to the Hong Kong Philharmonic and casino hotels in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

 

Two-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner

Sally Struthers
joins the cast as the socialite Evangeline Harcout.

Sally Struthers joins the cast as the socialite Evangeline Harcout.She is probably best known for her role as Gloria in the groundbreaking TV series All in the Family. She has also starred in the Fox television series 9 to 5 and her own CBS series Gloria as well as recurred on the CBS comedy Still Standing and the CW network’s highly acclaimed Gilmore Girls. Ms. Struthers joined the Gilmore cast for Netflix’s new four movie limited revival, which will premiere in the fall of 2016, and recently guest starred in the acclaimed IFC comedy series Maron. Sally Struthers has performed many roles at Ogunquit Playhouse including last season’s Nice Work If You Can Get It, as Louise Seger in Always, Patsy Cline, Mama Morton in Chicago, Paulette the hairdresser in Legally Blonde and as Felicia Gabriel in The Witches of Eastwick.

 

Playing Moonface Martin is Ray DeMattis who was last at the Ogunquit Playhouse as Coach VanBuren in Damn Yankees, The Red Sox Version. On Broadway he has appeared in Little Shop of Horrors, City of Angels, Zoya’s Apartment, and the original production of Grease. He has also performed in many Off-Broadway shows and regional theatres across the U.S. as well as in film and several television series including The Sopranos, Everwood, and Law and Order.
Josh Canfield joins the cast as Billy Crocker. He performed in the Broadway production of Doctor Zhivago and will appear in the upcoming Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 with Josh Groban. He has appeared on the hit CBS television series Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, and the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do. Mr. Canfield has also appeared in many regional theatre productions including Godspell, Hair, Sail Away, and Iron Curtain.
Also in the cast are Patti-Lee Meringo making her Ogunquit Playhouse debut is as Hope Harcourt; Steve Brady as Elisha Whitney, who appeared in last season’s Nice Work If You Can Get It; Ian Knauer as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, who is also making his Ogunquit Playhouse debut and has appeared on Broadway in Dames at Sea, Mamma Mia!, By Jeeves and State Fair; and Mychal Phillips who returns to Ogunquit to play Erma after last being seen in the Ogunquit Playhouse production of White Christmas.

Helming the production is Jayme McDaniel who also directed the Ogunquit Playhouse productions of 2015’s sold-out White Christmas; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Clay Aiken, winning Broadway World awards for best direction and choreography; and Singin’ in the Rain, for which he received an IRNE nomination for his choreography. He is currently a resident artist for EMK Productions in Seoul, South Korea where he has choreographed Rebecca, The Musical and the Yeston/Kopit Phantom and serves as Artistic Supervisor for Elisabeth and Marie Antoinette. He has worked as an associate director, director and/or a choreographer for dozens of shows across the U.S. and internationally, including Laughing Room Only on Broadway; Joseph… at North Shore Music Theatre; Singin’ in the Rain, Grey Gardens, Yankee Doodle and The Rocky Horror Show at the Ordway; The Student Prince, Camelot and Rags at Paper Mill Playhouse; Always, Patsy Cline, Evita, It’s a Fabulous Life, Chicago, Zombie Prom, The Merry Widow, People Like Us, They’re Playing Our Song, White Christmas, Wonderful Town, Sound of Music at the 5th Avenue Theatre and many others. As an arts administrator he was the Associate Producer for the Ogunquit Playhouse and the Associate Artistic Director for the Ordway Center of the Performing Arts. He’s also enjoyed a career on the stage as well, most notably in the final Nat’l Tour of Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing.

Choreographer for Anything Goes is New York-based Jason Wise who was mentored by the legendary Tommy Tune. He has choreographed and staged musical numbers for over twenty productions in the United States and Canada for Perez Hilton, Karen Ziemba, Brent Barrett, Lee Roy Reams, Maureen McGovern, Karen Akers, Donna McKechnie, Faith Prince, Leslie Uggams, Christine Andreas, Jackie Hoffman, Bridget Everett, Julia Murney, Stephanie J. Block, Megan McGinnis, Paige Davis, Dustin Diamond, Howard McGillin, Dennis Haskins, Ed Alonzo, Ashley Brown, Andrea Martin, Billy Porter, Michael Urie, Linda Lavin, Tovah Feldshuh, Tonya Pinkins, and now Sally Struthers and Andrea McArdle. Mr. Wise’s television credits include Lifetime’s Dance Moms, NBC’s Smash, ABC’s Pan Am, and The Normal Heart for HBO. His work in film includes The Wolf of Wall Street and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Charlie Reuter returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse as Music Director after conducting last season’s award-winning production of Nice Work If You Can Get It. Most recently, he worked with Trevor Nunn to adapt an original score for Pericles for which he received a 2016 Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Music in a Play. He has also served as assistant conductor for the Tony Award-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at The Old Globe, and for Dreamgirls at The Muny starring Jennifer Holliday. Mr. Reuter other credits include Peter and the Starcatcher at La Jolla Playhouse; The Light in the Piazza at LPT and How the Grinch Stole Christmas at The Old Globe. Following his time in Ogunquit he will conduct the National Tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

Mark your calendars now and get ready to see every show this year. Ticket packages are still available and are the best way to guarantee the best seats for the lowest price, starting at only $129 for a three-show Super Saver package. Individual tickets start at $47 each. To learn more about becoming a Playhouse member, or to purchase tickets and gift cards, visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box Office at 207-646-5511.

The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to be the New England premiere and one of the first regional theatres in the U.S. to produce the brand-new musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame July 13 to August 6. This epic tale of passion and hope is an emotionally charged retelling of the famous Victor Hugo love story set in 15th century Paris, created by two masters of stage and screen, composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Aladdin) and lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin). Get your glitter on for the outrageously fun Priscilla Queen of the Desert on stage from August 10 to September 3. Take the ride of your life with the hilarious and heartwarming Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, based on the Oscar-winning film, with a non-stop dazzling array of over 500 imaginative and outrageous costumes, 200 headdresses and the non-stop hit parade of hit dance numbers from the 70s and 80s. Pull up your boots and hold onto your hats when Seven Brides for Seven Brothers hits the stage September 7 to October 1. This all-dancing, all-singing, all-new production of the rip-roarin’ musical comedy classic bursts onto the stage with rambunctious energy. Elvis, Jerry Lee, Perkins and Cash return by popular demand! Million Dollar Quartet, the best-selling show in the history of the Playhouse, hits the stage October 5 to November 6 with the 2015 cast to once again to rock out the season with one mega-hit song after the next.

About the Ogunquit Playhouse:
The Ogunquit Playhouse, a 501c3 not-for-profit organization listed on the National Historic Register, is located on Route One in Ogunquit, Maine and produces the finest Broadway musicals each season with performances Tuesday through Sunday, from May 18 to November 6. Follow the Ogunquit Playhouse on Twitter (@OgunquitPH) and on Facebook (facebook.com/OgunquitPlayhouse) for behind-the-scenes info, photos and fun throughout the season. For a complete list of show times, pricing and more information about the season visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.

Photo Caption: Broadway’s Andrea McArdle stars as Reno Sweeney in the delightfully, delicious, “De-Lovely” Anything Goes at the Ogunquit Playhouse June 15 through July 9. The madcap musical comedy set on the ocean liner S.S. American is filled with Cole Porter’s greatest hits, a team of tap dancing sailors, and a whole lot of fun – especially when two-time Emmy Award winner Sally Struthers hops on board as Evangeline Harcourt to stir things up! Don’t miss the boat! www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box-office at 207-646-5511 for tickets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roberto Duran

The Last Of The Great

Old School Fighters

by Bobby Franklin

Duran's Fist
Duran’s Fist

On May 16th “Hands of Stone” the movie biographic of Roberto Duran opened to mixed reviews at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie is scheduled to premiere in the United States in August. I am looking forward to seeing it. Duran is played by Edgar Ramirez with Robert De Niro portraying trainer Ray Arcel. Former boxing champion turned actor John Duddy steps into the role of Ken Buchanan.

While anticipating this movie I have been reflecting on the career of Roberto Duran. Not just his fights but his attitude, training methods, and amazing skills. I believe Duran was the last of the great “Old School” boxers. Roberto had a total of 119 bouts in a career lasting 34 years and in which he fought in five different decades. In that time he won five championships in four weight divisions. He began his career at 119 pounds and fought through the different classes going as high as light heavyweight. He was, of course, at his best while fighting lightweight where he dominated the division and will always be considered an all time great. He is ranked as the best ever by many boxing experts, and they certainly have a good argument for that view.

Leonard v Duran 1
Leonard v Duran 1

Duran won the Lightweight Championship from Ken Buchanan on January 26, 1972 and remained champion until 1979 when he vacated the throne in order to take on Sugar Ray Leonard for the Welterweight title in Montreal, Canada. In a superb fight, Roberto out boxed and outslugged Leonard over fifteen rounds and came away with the belt. It was the highpoint of his career. The great lightweight champion had proven he could step up in weight and defeat the best.

Of course, the glory was short lived as Duran foolishly agreed to a rematch just five months later. Roberto had not even finished celebrating his victory, and celebrating was something he did with as much passion as fighting, He had ballooned to 180 pounds and had to trim down very fast to make the weight for his title defense. He also was not mentally prepared for the fight. Many believe Leonard, along with his very shrewd manager Angelo Dundee, pushed for the quick rematch knowing Duran would not be at his best in such a short time.

The rest is history as Duran would forever have to live with the words “No Mas” after quitting in the 8th round. To this day there has never been a definitive explanation given as to why the fearless Duran just threw his hands up and relinquished the title. Duran has said different things at different times, but I don’t think he is even sure why he did it. My belief is he just was not up for the fight, got frustrated by Leonard’s brilliant boxing and decided to call it a night. It was one of those crazy moments that was completely out of character for the great champion. As a side note, Duran never actually uttered the words “No Mas!

Duran never actually uttered the words “No Mas!”

Now why do I call Duran the last of the great old school boxers? First off, unlike today’s overly cautious so called champions, Duran fought often and against everyone. After winning the Lightweight Championship he was back in the ring for a non-title bout just three months later. He fought an additional two times that same year including dropping a non-title ten round decision to top contender Esteban DeJesus. Instead of then avoiding DeJesus, Duran went on to give Esteban two shots at the title, stopping him both times.

From the time he won the Lightweight Crown until he gave it up in 1980 Duran fought 43 times in both title and non-title fights. He defended the championship twelve times. Over that period he absolutely dominated the division and was, next to Muhammad Ali, the most followed fighter. Every time he stepped into the ring there was excitement in the air.

Duran trained “Old School” and was taught “Old School” methods by Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown. He also had abundant natural talent, which made him reminiscent of Jack Dempsey. When you watch Duran in action you are not just seeing a brutal punching slugger in there, you are also seeing an artist at work plying his craft. He had the moves of a cat, the punch of a mule, and the cunning of a fox.

Duran v Hagler
Duran v Hagler

Look at almost any Duran fight and you will see brilliance. While watching him at his peak is always a pleasure for any boxing aficionado, I particularly enjoy viewing his 1983 match against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Here was Duran long past his prime fighting way above his best weight against one of the greatest middleweight champions of all-time. On paper this should have been an easy win for Hagler, but Duran reached into his tool box, or perhaps I should say artist’s palette, to come up with an array of boxing moves that have not been seen since. He used body and head feints to confound Hagler.

He used body and head feints to confound Hagler.

He would work his way inside and appear to be about to go for a clinch when he would suddenly unleash a combination to the body. He was rolling with and slipping punches. He knew how to take breaks in order to catch his breath. Going into the 13th round Duran was actually ahead on two of the judges cards. Just amazing. Marvin, with his eye swollen, had to fight hard in the remaining rounds to secure the victory.

In my opinion, that loss made up ten times over for the “No Mas Fight”. Duran continued fighting until 2001and even managed to win the WBC Middleweight Title in 1989 by defeating Iran Barkley.

Duran was an all time great lightweight, an all time great pound for pound fighter, and a true “Old School Boxer”. It is doubtful the moves he executed in the ring will ever be seen again. For all the talk of him being a slugger, it must be remembered how difficult he was to hit. He had amazing defensive skills. Watching film of him gives you an idea of what great fighters used to do. I have included a video of Roberto teaching some young boxers in a gym in England. It is an absolute Master Class in boxing. You will learn more about the Fine Art of Boxing just watching this video than you will  from two or more years in most modern boxing gyms. “Old School Boxing” has become a lost art form. Carefully watching Roberto Duran in action will teach you a lot. Watching him giving pointers in a gym is pure gold.

Roberto Duran meets Brighton & Hove ABC from South Coast Productions on Vimeo.

 

“Anything Goes” Is A Delightful Sail In Ogunquit

Review: “Anything Goes” At The Ogunquit Playhouse Through July 9th

by Bobby Franklin

Put a classic Broadway musical into the hands of the artists at the Ogunquit Playhouse and it is pretty much guaranteed you will be in for a wonderful evening. The current production of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” is another example of the wonderful things that happen on the Playhouse stage.

Andrea McArdle and Josh Canfield Photo: Jeff Bellante
Andrea McArdle and Josh Canfield
Photo: Jeff Bellante

A great cast led by Andrea McArdle, Sally Struthers, and Josh Canfield make this play simply DeLovely. “Anything Goes” opens strong with Reno Sweeney singing “I Get A Kick Out Of You” to the object of her desires Billy Crocker. With such a strong and well delivered opening number I wondered if they were going to be able to continue the pace for the rest of the show. Well, Cole Porter knew his music, and the cast knows their Cole Porter.

Setting sail to “There’s No Cure Like Travel” led by the Captain (Seth Lerner) and “Bon Voyage” we learn that while Reno loves Billy, he is hopelessly in love with debutante Hope Harcourt (Patti-Lee Meringo) who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Ian Knauer).

Everything becomes delightfully madcap as Billy stows away on board with plans to win Hope’s heart. While doing so he befriends Public Enemy #13, Moonfaced Martin played by Ray DeMattis who cracks an endless stream of one liners. While some are groaners, they are all funny with his superb delivery. Martin is disguised as a priest in order to evade the authorities, which creates for some awkward and very humorous moments.

Steve Brady, Sally Struthers, and Bradford Little T. Kenney Photo: Jeff Bellante
Steve Brady, Sally Struthers, and Bradford Little T. Kenney
Photo: Jeff Bellante

Sally Struthers, oh yes Sally, who returns to Ogunquit each year and never disappoints, is marvelous as Hope’s mother Evangeline. Ms Struthers brings out laughs with just a sidewards glance. She is as strong as ever in this production. In one scene she spends about fifteen seconds singing her way across the stage, but in this few seconds she has the audience roaring with laughter. She is such a treasure. Evangeline is being pursued by Elisha Whitney (Steve Brady) who is a bit of a tippler and the perfect match for her.

As I said earlier, it seemed that with such a strong opening it would be difficult for the cast to keep moving things along. The play only got stronger as each situation and song were brought out. Reno and Billy dancing and singing their way through a wonderful “You’re The Top” where we see Ms McArdle’s immense talent on display while being complimented by the very able Josh Canfield who was perfect in the role of Billy. Hope and Billy singing “It’s DeLovely”, the lively duet with Reno and Moonface performing “Friendship”, and the toe tapping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” where Andrea McArdle and the cast light up the stage, all make this a fantastic evening.

Mychal Phillips and Cast Photo: Gary Ng
Mychal Phillips and Cast
Photo: Gary Ng

I have to mention two other numbers that were outstanding. Mychal Phillips as Erma burned up the stage while dancing her way along with the sailors to “Buddie, Beware”. The audience loved her.

Ian Klauer’s playing the very British Lord Oakleigh is sidesplittingly funny in his rendition of “The Gypsy In Me” as he tangos across the stage in John Cleese fashion. Oh, this was funny!

The cast is supported by a six piece orchestra directed by Charlie Reuter. Mr. Reuter and his musicians make it look easy. Choreography by Jason wise is step perfect, and the whole production is in the fine hands of director Jayme McDaniel.
Now, I have left out one new incredible rising young star who took the stage by storm in his debut. That would be charming, talented, four legged sensation Little Bradford T. Kenney. Never have I seen such a strong performance from a first time player. It might be noted that this Mr. Kenney, named after Ogunquit Playhouse Artistic Director Brad Kenney, is a Cairn Terrier and has quite the theatre background. Little Bradford was adopted from a kill shelter by Sally Struthers and went out on that stage a puppy but came back a star.

Andrea McArdle and Ray DeMattis Photo: Jeff Bellante
Andrea McArdle and Ray DeMattis
Photo: Jeff Bellante

Seeing a play on Broadway is now beyond the financial reach of many people, but that does not mean seeing a full fledged Broadway production is. The Ogunquit Playhouse gives us all you will get on the Great White Way and even more as they make their audience feel as if they have found a home there.

I am sure you will find “Anything Goes” delovely and leave thinking it’s the tops.

For ticket information contact the Ogunquit Playhouse at 207.646.5511 or OgunquitPlayhouse.org

Movie Review: The Set-up 1949

This is the inaugural essay in an ongoing series by the sad young men at Boxing Over Broadway discussing various boxing films ranging from the good, the great, and the abominable. Check back periodically as we begin to catalog the greats (and duds) of this rich, vibrant genre.

 

The Set-up, 1949. dir. Robert Wise

Reviewed by David Curcio

Set-Up PosterRobert Wise’s The Set-up opens with a hovering shot over the seedy side of a nameless city. Clubs with names like “Paradise” and ‘Dreamland” loom like oracles over a bustling street corner. A kid runs around hawking newspapers and brazenly eases into a crowd where a middle aged guy is doing the same. The kid takes over fast, and when the the older guy tells him he’s gotta make a buck too, the kid replies, “Aw, go take a walk!” It is not a friendly world for the old and middle aged.

It is not a friendly world for the old and middle aged.

So too with boxing, and The Set-up gets this better than any film about the sport before or since.

On the surface, The Set-up looks like the prototype of the age-old tale of the aging fighter, long-past his prime who, due to the workings and exchanges of managers, gangsters, and other venal scumbags, must throw what is certain to be his last fight. But to the surprise of the thugs waiting to collect, he puts pride before personal safety and manages to win by a knockout. This trope can be seen as recently as Bruce Willis’s character in Pulp Fiction and in the popular comic book series Daredevil, where our hero’s father’s is murdered for winning a fixed fight. But The Set-up delivers an added blow to its otherwise straight forward combination: our over-the-hill pug is never let in on the fix.

Robert Ryan is Bill “Stoker” Thomson, a marked-up thirty five year-old matched against endless waves of cute twenty-three year-old hopefuls. His relationship with his long-suffering wife is becoming increasingly strained on account of his routine beatings – each worse than the last – in the ring. “One punch away,” he tells her with unrealistic hope and optimism, and from her response,“You’ll always be ‘one punch away’

“You’ll always be ‘one punch away’

,” it is clear that he’s been singing this tune way too long. Pathetically delusional and half punch drunk, Stoker is still convinced he has a shot: if he can win this $500 purse he’ll have a shot at Martinez! A shot at Martinez would in turn lead to a shot at the Pittsburg Windmill himself, Harry Greb. To hear him tell his wife he will return victorious is like hearing a child with a plastic shovel announce plans to dig to China, but a lot sadder. In a last ditch effort to change his mind, she suggest he work the docks, go on relief… anything except continue this masochistic delusion. Like the cowpoke at high noon, there is no talking him out of it. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Robert Ryan
Robert Ryan

The Setup, however, is as much about the sleazy, corrupt world of boxing at large, and this tale serves as a microcosm for all that has plagued the sport from its earliest days. As intrinsic to the sport as the fighters themselves are the money-grubbing vultures, the rabid spectators screaming for the blood to spill, and the fickle public who, like everyone in this world of real-life feints and deception, are waiting for their own payday. Stoker’s cigar chomping, lowlife manager, Tiny (played with a down-at-heals desperation and a wide nasty streak by George Tobias), and the mincing, thinly-mustachioed gangster with the ominous moniker of Little Boy (played with genuine menace by Alan Baxter) set up a series of bets in which Stoker will go down anytime after the second. And why cut Stoker in at all, they reason, if he’s going to lose anyway? It’s a lock: he just has to stay on his feet for two rounds.

Remarkably, the film’s fight sequences were shot in real time,

the film’s fight sequences were shot in real time

with three minute rounds and actors who knew what they were doing. Robert Ryan held the college heavyweight title during all four of his years at Dartmouth, and from the first shots of his feet circling the ring we know that we are in the presence of an experienced fighter, albeit one whose ankles are beginning to sink closer to the canvas with age. His body is still a finely tuned machine – like a late-career Gene Tunney, he is tall, slightly lanky, with the deltoids, lats, and calf muscles needed for the game (compare that to Stallone’s Rocky, with his giant biceps better suited for holding a 150 pound machine gun than a pair of gloves).

setupboxersFrom the opening bell the air hangs heavy with something more sinister than anticipation. Little Boy’s shifty eyes dart from the ring to the slobbering Tiny as Stoker lifts himself up after each knockdown, glides around the ring alternately stalking his young opponent, absorbing and slipping punches, and giving as good as he gets. If we look at a few of the great boxing films – Raging Bull, Body and Soul – a degree of believability is lost with them. Where emphasis in their case is placed squarely on the visual (as it should be in film), the fights nevertheless feel overly choreographed – camera work so saturated with the flash of camera bulbs and closeups of sweat and blood spraying across the screen in slow motion – that it actually lifts us out of the fight and into the realm of the purely cinematic. Every blow seems to land; the drama of a body hitting the canvas in slow motion feels tired to the contemporary viewer – surely the impact would be the same if not greater if we watched the action unfold in real time? But The Set-up gives us both. A film noir that revels in dark alleys, bright street corners and the blinding ring, combined with closeups of a bout that will not allow us to forget the deadly implications for our unwitting hero.

Originally a poem by Joseph Moncure March, The Set-up whitewashes the original source material in casting a white actor. But the film’s scenes of young hopefuls shows a color blind group supportive of one another (even the lithe, token African American, who resembles the Cuban fighter Kid Chocolate and is the one college boy of the group).

Finally, the sport would exist in a vacuum if not for the spectators, who, for better or worse, incite the action and react to every blow with expressions ranging from the delirious to the calculating. Some are here for blood, others for money, many for both. Women otherwise prim and composed scream “Kill ‘im!” like mad banshees; bookmakers look from the ring down to their charts, stubby pencils at the ready; slobs waiting for a bloody knockout pour popcorn down their throats. It is a sport for the intellectual who can understand the game for its grace and methodology, as well as for the louts out for blood like attendees at the Circus Maximus. As one looks at the sad turn the sport has taken in the past twenty plus years and the rise of MMA fighting, it seems the latter crowd has spoken as to what the people want in a bout, something folk singers Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan sang in their respective songs on the death of Davey Moore at the hands of Sugar Ramos in 1963:

“We just meant to see some sweat,

There ain’t nothing wrong in that.

It wasn’t us that made him fall.

No, you can’t blame us at all.”

“For the fighters must destroy as the poets must sing,

As the hungry crowd must gather for the blood upon the ring.”

-From Bob Dylan’s “Who Killed Davey Moore?” and Phil Ochs’ “The Ballad of Davey Moore,” respectively.

The-Set-up-30903_4The Set-up may be a boxing film, but one needn’t be a fan of the sport to enjoy it. In fact, one who abhors the violence of the game as well as the evil workings behind the scenes may feel vindicated by it’s sleaze and brutality – that is, if they can take their eyes and minds away from Milton Krasner’s silvery cinematography long enough to even contemplate these moral quandaries. Fight fans may be less than riveted by the straight forward dilemmas of the plot (which are sure to get wrapped up by the end of the film – it was highly unusual for the ratings codes to allow a film’s hero of to get knocked off). It is the fight scenes themselves that carry the action and anticipation of a real bout.

At the heart of the story is not the fight, not the fix, but the effect the game can have on a marriage. It is arguable that the film’s end – (“I ain’t fighting anymore,” he tells his wife) is a minor copout. Of course he won’t be fighting anymore, the mob has seen to that with the help of a brick.

The Regional Premiere of the Epic New Musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Set to Open July 13 at the Ogunquit Playhouse

2016_Hunchback_Header01

The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to be the New England premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, on stage from July 13 to August 6, making the Playhouse one of the first regional theatres in the U.S. to stage this new musical. Victor Hugo’s epic tale of hope, love

Sydney Morton (Esmeralda)
Sydney Morton (Esmeralda)

and passion, with book by Peter Parnell (On A Clear Day You Can See Forever Broadway revival) and music by composer Alan Menken (Newsies) and lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked), soars to life in this emotionally charged retelling of the celebrated classic. The love story of the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda, the scorned bell-ringer Quasimodo and the dashing Captain Phoebus comes to glorious life in this powerful rendition of the timeless tale. The bold and dramatic theatrics, combined with the music’s orchestral power and choral beauty provided by a thirty-two member choir that accompanies the cast, promise to transport audiences back to fifteenth century Paris and inside the cathedral walls made famous by Victor Hugo’s novel.

F. Michael Haynie (Quasimodo)
F. Michael Haynie (Quasimodo)

The stellar cast is led by F. Michael Haynie who is making his Ogunquit debut as Quasimodo. On Broadway he performed in Wicked and Holler If Ya Hear Me, on television in Peter Pan Live for NBC, and the film Not Fade Away for Paramount. The beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda is played by Sydney Morton who has performed as part of the original Broadway casts of Memphis, Evita, Motown and American Psycho, the National Tours of Flashdance and Jersey Boys, and appeared in The Sound of Music Live broadcast on NBC. Christopher Johnstone returns to the Playhouse as Captain Phoebus after playing Lt. Cable in the award-winning production of South Pacific (Best Actor nominee Broadway World). His many theatre credits include the National Tours of the recent revival of Evita, Lincoln Center’s production of South Pacific and regional productions of Fiddler on the Roof, A Little Night Music, and Pirates of Penzance, among many others.

Bradley Dean (Frollo)
Bradley Dean (Frollo)

Bradley Dean joins the cast as Claude Frollo. Mr. Dean is also making his Ogunquit debut and has appeared on Broadway in A Little Night Music, The Last Ship, Company, Doctor Zhivago, Spamalot, The Story of My Life, Evita, Jane Eyre, Man of La Mancha as well as many Off-Broadway, National Tours and regional theatre productions. Paolo Montalban joins the cast as Clopin. He was last seen at the Ogunquit Playhouse in The King and I (Lun Tha) and Cinderella (Prince Christopher). On Broadway he appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Pacific Overtures and Off-Broadway in Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Romance of Magno Rubio, as well as many regional theatres across the nation. On television Montalban is most recognized as the Prince in the ethnically diverse ABC production of “Cinderella.”

Shaun Kerrison returns from England to direct this epic production for the Ogunquit Playhouse. He has directed many Ogunquit productions, receiving many IRNE and BroadwayWorld nominations for Best Director. Mr. Kerrison was last in Ogunquit in 2014 to direct Mary Poppins the Broadway Musical and The Witches of Eastwick and in 2012 he directed the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic South Pacific. He also directed the U.S. regional premiere of Sunset Boulevard at the Ogunquit Playhouse starring Stephanie Powers, as well as Les Miserables and My Fair Lady for the Ogunquit stage. On Broadway, Mr. Kerrison was the Resident Director of Mary Poppins and was the Associate Director for the Broadway revival of Les Miserables and he redirected the National Theatres production of My Fair Lady for its 50th Anniversary U.S. National Tour. He recently reunited with conductor John Wilson to direct Kiss Me Kate for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

Choreographer for the Ogunquit production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is Connor Gallagher who recently received an Astaire Award for his work on The Robber Bridegroom at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City. His many show credits include the world-premiere stage adaptation of Disney’s Tangled with director Gordon Greenberg; Robert Schenkkan and Neil Berg’s The Twelve at Denver Center; The Fabulous Lipitones for Goodspeed; and Perez Hilton at Lincoln Center. Mr. Gallagher will next choreograph the Broadway-bound musical FOUND for the Philadelphia Theatre Company and as a director, a new musical with Disney Creative Entertainment for fall of 2017.

Fight Director Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum joins the creative team to direct the fight scenes in the show. He has worked on many Broadway productions including Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher, Cyrano de Bergerac, and On the Twentieth Century as well as many Off-Broadway and regional theatre productions and the television production of Peter Pan Live for NBC/Universal.

Brent-Alan Huffman returns to Ogunquit Playhouse as Conductor/Music Director after having conducted last year’s Playhouse hit Sister Act. Mr. Huffman conducted the recent Billboard number 1 cast recording of Hunchback of Notre Dame, and was Conductor/Music Director for the original U.S. companies in 2014-15. His Broadway credits include Leap of Faith, Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and National Tours include Sister Act, Little Shop of Horrors and Beauty and the Beast. For television he served as Production Music Coordinator on ABC’s The Music Man starring Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth, and as Associate Music Producer on NBC/Hallmark’s A Christmas Carol starring Kelsey Grammer. Assisting Mr. Huffman is Associate Music Director Jeffrey Campos and Chorus Master Wendell Scott Purrington.

An all new set has been designed by Adam Koch exclusively for the Ogunquit stage that reaches out over the audience complete with areas for Quasimodo to venture. Mr. Koch previously designed sets for the Ogunquit Playhouse productions of Sister Act and Saturday Night Fever. He has designed sets for theatres across the nation, including the landmark outdoor production of Carousel and The Sleepy Hollow Experience for Serenbe Playhouse; the original Chicago production of Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo Theatre; Hello, Dolly! for Ford’s Theater; Miss Saigon, Dreamgirls, Kiss of the Spiderwoman (2008 Helen Hayes nomination), and See What I Wanna See for Signature Theatre; and Bat Boy for 1st Stage for which he received a 2015 Helen Hayes nomination. His Off-Broadway credits include Rooms: A Rock Romance, Loaded, We the People, Pinkalicious and Freckleface Strawberry. Associate Scenic Designer Steven Royal, who has collaborated with Adam Koch on over thirty musicals, plays and live events including Miss Saigon (Signature Theatre), Carousel (Serenbe Playhouse) and Hairspray (Syracuse Stage) also joins the creative team for the Ogunquit Playhouse.

Also joining the creative team for Ogunquit Playhouse is Costume Designer Martha Bromelmeier who designed costumes for hundreds of theatrical productions including The Kennedy Center Honors, The New Victory Theatre, The Cocteau Rep, The Lucille Lortel Theatre, and Primary Stages among many others. Martha has worked with leading ladies including Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Audra McDonald, Sutton Foster, Kelli O’Hara, Jessie Mueller, Laura Benanti, Laura Osnes, Patina Miller and Anna Kendrick.

Visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org or call the box office at 207-646-5511 for tickets.

Shadow Box, A Second Look At An Amateur In The Ring

by Bobby Franklin

Shadow Box: An Amateur In The Ring
By George Plimpton
(Little Brown, 347 pages, $20.00)

Shadow BoxEvery young man who steps into a boxing ring for the first time sees himself as a future champion. Appearing so basic in its nature, prizefighting is the one sport where it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see one’s self as landing that knock out blow against the champion and taking the title. Reality is a bit different.

For many, that first experience getting punched on the nose by a blow that seemed to come out of nowhere is enough to send even the most imaginative packing and leaving the gym never to return. For others, it is just the thing that gets the adrenalin flowing and the desire spiked to move forward in pursuit of the nearly impossible dream.

George Plimpton was the editor of the The Paris Review from 1953 until his death in 2003. He was also a frequent contributor to Sports Illustrated Magazine. Mr. Plimpton earned a reputation as a participatory journalist by stepping onto the mound to throw against a number of MLB All Stars, play quarterback briefly for the Detroit Lions (he lost thirty yards in his few minutes on the field), and being beaten at golf by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer among other things.

In 1960 he also decided to experience boxing first hand. Now most people would have gone to a boxing gym and taken a few lessons, stepped in with a sparring partner of similar experience and gotten a good taste of what it is like to be in the ring. Not so in Plimpton’s case. His first choice of opponent was Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson. When that arrangement failed to materialize he moved down a weight class and sought out Light Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore. The Old Mongoose agreed to meet George in the ring at Stillman’s Gym in New York City.

He recounted his session with Moore in Shadow Box: An Amateur In The Ring first published in 1977 and now reissued by Little Brown as part of a delightful set of the sports books by George Plimpton. This title is one of seven in the group, and it is a wonderful read.

I first read Shadow Box in 1977 while I was still active in the ring. Rereading it now has brought back so many memories of that time when boxing was quite different than it is today.

Moore and Plimpton (Photo: Walter Daran)
Moore and Plimpton
(Photo: Walter Daran)

Mr. Plimpton begins with his bout with Archie Moore. He took this match quite seriously enlisting a professional boxing trainer to prepare him for the fatal day. He also read numerous books on the subject and learned he was not unique among writers in getting into the ring with a champion boxer. The poet Arthur Craven, reputed to be the nephew of Oscar Wilde, fought Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson in Paris. It should be noted that Mr. Plimpton fared much better in his match against Archie Moore.

George had one fatal flaw as a boxer, something he called the “sympathetic response”. This was an involuntary reaction to being hit that resulted in tears flowing from his eyes giving the appearance he was crying. This reaction was a far cry from the Sonny Liston stare and would hardly send chills done the spine of an opponent.

The three rounds with Moore went well in front of a large crowd that had gathered in Stallman’s for the event, and George was very proud of the bloody nose he came away with.

The book moves on from there to many interesting experiences Mr. Plimpton had in the boxing world as well as some wonderful stories about authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote. In one of these tales we learn of how the author attempted to arrange a meeting between Hemingway and Mailer, but it never happened. Perhaps, this was for the better as any restaurant the two would have met in almost certainly would have been busted up. We also learn that Mailer was undefeated at thumb wrestling.

Some of the best parts of the book are about the time Mr. Plimpton spent with Muhammad Ali and his covering both the first Frazier fight as well as the Foreman fight in Zaire.

The author was in Ali’s dressing room immediately after the Frazier bout and describes the pain Muhammad was in after his fifteen rounds with Joe. Most fans are not aware of just how much punishment boxers take in a fight, and this was no ordinary fight. Ali was exhausted and in excruciating pain. He could barely walk. I am sure the situation was as bad if not not worse in the Frazier camp. Mr. Plimpton’s wonderful writing brings this moment in boxing history vividly to life.

The last portion of the book is devoted to Ali’s fight with Foreman in Africa. After the press had arrived the bout was postponed for six weeks due to a cut eye the champion received in training. Being so far from home the writers stayed in Zaire for the six weeks. This leads to a number of tales such as the one where Norman Mailer thought he was going to be eaten by a lion.

Mr. Plimpton spends a number of pages writing about Hunter Thompson. Thompson was sent to cover the fight for Rolling Stone Magazine but didn’t go to the bout. I really don’t know why so many pages are devoted to Thompson as I really never understood why he was ever taken seriously, but it is an insight into the time.

The author talks quite a bit about Drew Bundini, Ali’s sidekick. Mr. Plimpton refers to him as Ali’s trainer. In one depressing scene Ali belittles Bundini and slaps him in the face in front of a roomful of reporters. Mr. Plimpton, who worshiped Ali, says he hated him at that moment.

Shadow Box is a delight. It is a book by an author who is a master with words. A man who brings the enthusiasm of the dedicated boxing fan along with just enough knowledge of the sport to make it all come alive. It is a book about the sport when it was much different and much more exciting. That excitement comes through on every page. If you have not already read Shadow Box, I urge you to do so. if you read it years ago, go to it again. You will not be disappointed.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

An Epic Hit At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Quasimodo (F. Michael Haynie) Photo: Gary Ng
Quasimodo (F. Michael Haynie)
Photo: Gary Ng

As I waited for the curtain to rise for the opening of The Hunchback of Notre Dame I was fascinated by what I could see of the set for this production. I read in the program notes it was designed by Adam Koch exclusively for the Playhouse. I have seen Mr. Koch’s work before and have been impressed, but his work for this production was beyond impressive, it was positively breathtaking.

Ladders, a movable staircase, giant cathedral doors, five large bells, a choir loft, cauldron, revolving stage upon the stage, all appearing and disappearing seamlessly from scene to scene. This, combined with superb lighting, created a visual epic that held the audience spellbound during the entire performance.

But sets alone do not make for a hit play. While drinking in the creative genius of Mr. Koch, something else began to happen on stage. An incredible story, dark yet touching, unfolded. This story was told by actors with talent who were playing at the top of their game.

As the play opens we see the word “Fate” in large letters over the stage. This word would stay with us as we watch events unfold and it will haunt us with the question: How much do we control our own destinies? One that mankind has struggled with throughout the ages.

Theatre is illusion, and when F. Michael Haynie first appears on stage we see him transformed into the part of Quasimodo right before our eyes. It is a stunning moment when he turns to face the audience, his face with just the right lighting, no makeup, and he is suddenly in full character. It is one of those moments in theatre that is never forgotten. Mr. Haynie goes on to give a full and outstanding performance for the rest of the evening. In a stage populated with talent, he shines.

Quasimodo is the illegitimate nephew of Claude Frollo the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. He took in his brother’s out of wedlock child, and to shelter him from the world, confined him to the belfry of the church where he serves as bellringer.

Frollo (Bradley Dean) Photo: Gary Ng
Frollo (Bradley Dean)
Photo: Gary Ng

Frollo, powerfully portrayed by Bradley Dean, is tormented by his feelings of guilt when he begins to feel lust for the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda portrayed by the very talented Sydney Morton. Mr. Dean takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster as he elicits feelings of warmth, pity, sadness, and anger in his descent into a darkness from within the soul of Frollo.

The magnificent score written by Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken was originally created for the Disney film. It has been since updated with some songs removed and others added. Many of the songs heard in Ogunquit are being performed on stage for the first time. Some high spots among the many are The Bells of Notre Dame, the touching Out There sung from the tower by Quasimodo, the beautiful duet Someday performed by Esmeralda and Captain Phoebus played by Christopher Johnstone who was last seen on the playhouse stage in South Pacific. His voice is as wonderful now as it was then.

Chopin (Paolo Montalban) Photo: Julia Russell
Chopin (Paolo Montalban)
Photo: Julia Russell

I also want to mention the very strong performance of Paolo Montalbano as Clopin, the king of the gypsies. He also plays the roll of narrator. Along with the gargoyles who come to life only to Quasimodo and serve as a sort of Greek Chorus, the story flows continually.

There is a thirty-two member chorus that occupies the choir loft that is perched high up and to the back of the stage. Their magnificent voices fill the theatre. The Playhouse recruited local talent for the chorus from such groups as the Seaglass Chorale, and they are all first class.

This production is something a bit different for the Playhouse as it has only been performed at two venues in the United States, and this run is being directed for the Ogunquit Playhouse by Shaun Kerrison. It is not a touring company show. Under the artistic direction of Brad Kenney, the Playhouse has become a major player in regional theatre. I believe there is a very strong likelihood this production will move on to Broadway. It is that strong. I hope Mr. Kerrison follows it there.

This play is dark in many parts. It will touch your emotions and make you think about how cruel humans can be to each other and wonder why. It will cause you to look at yourself and, perhaps, question some of the quick judgements we all make about people because they are different. The play does not answer these questions, but I believe it will open many eyes so that we all take the time to be more thoughtful before passing judgement on our fellow human beings.

We can take charge of our fate, but we must grasp our hopes and believe in the good we all have to offer.

See this play. You will be delighted by such a beautiful evening of theatre. You will also leave pondering so much more.

Through August 6th.
For information: OgunquitPlayhouse.org 207.646.5511

Ogunquit Playhouse Presents Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

 

Get Your Glitter On for the New England Premiere of 
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the Ogunquit Playhouse August 10 to September 3.

Ogunquit, ME — Get your glitter on and take the ride of your life with the hilarious and heartwarming Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, based on the Oscar-winning film on stage at the Ogunquit Playhouse August 10 to September 3. The Ogunquit Playhouse is one of the first regional theatres in the U.S. to stage this outrageous international and Broadway smash hit, with book by Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott, complete with a non-stop dazzling array of over 500 imaginative and outrageous Tony Award-winning costumes and 200 headdresses designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner. Rounding out the fun is a hit parade of infectious dance songs from the 70s and 80s by Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Donna Summer, The Village People and many other pop-stars and include “I Will Survive,” “Hot Stuff,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “True Colors,” and “I Love The Nightlife.” Don’t miss the bus! Hop on for a journey to the heart of fabulous!

Jarrod Emick
Jarrod Emick

The story follows the adventure of friends Tick, Bernadette and Adam who board a party bus named Priscilla and take their outrageous drag show on the road through the Australian Outback to unite Tick with his young son. Starring as Tick is Jarrod Emick who won a Tony Award, Drama Desk and Theatre World Award for his role as Joe Hardy in the 1994 Broadway revival of Damn Yankees. Mr. Emick has performed in many other Broadway shows as well, including Miss Saigon (Broadway debut), Rocky Horror Show, The Boy from Oz opposite Hugh Jackman, and Ring of Fire. He also appeared at the Prince of Wales Theatre in the West End premiere of The Full Monty. His regional theatre productions include Next to Normal, Guys and Dolls, Sweeney Todd, Bus Stop, Picnic, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, Contact, Hands on a Hard Body and The Sound of Music.

William Selby
William Selby

William Selby joins the cast as Bernadette. He most recently enjoyed a long run of Laughing Matters, Vol. 5 at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota. Off-Broadway he has performed in many editions of Forbidden Broadway, The Daring Duo, Nerds, Forbidden Hollywood, Juba, and The Apple Tree. Mr. Selby has also performed in regional theatres throughout the U.S. in many shows including South Pacific as Luther Billis (for which he received Broadway World and Connecticut Critics Circle Award nominations for Outstanding Featured Actor), Barrymore, The Presidents, Hot n’ Cole, and All Night Strut. Playing Adam is Matthew Marks who is taking a break from his five year run in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon. Among his credits are the Broadway production of West Side Story

Matthew Marks
Matthew Marks

and the National Tour of Fiddler on the Roof. Lisa Helmi-Johanson, Coleen Sexton and Debra Walton join the cast as the three Divas along for the fabulous ride. Ms. Helmi-Johanson has performed in regional theatres in the U.S. in Avenue Q, Waterfall, Taming of the Shrew and …Spelling Bee as well as many others. Ms. Sexton has performed on Broadway in Forever Dusty and the National Tours in Wicked as Elphaba, in Legally Blonde as Brooke Wyndham, and various roles in Chicago. Ms. Walton has performed on Broadway and Off-Broadway in many shows including The Pajama Game, Storyville!, The Bubbly Black Girl and Cookin’ At the Cookery: The Life and Times of Alberta Hunter, which earned her a Drama Desk Nomination and a Barrymore Award. Mitch Poulos, who has also performed throughout the U.S., most notably in the National Tours of Billy Elliot the Musical, is cast as Bob.

Helming the Ogunquit production is David Ruttura who is currently the Associate/Resident Director of School of Rock on Broadway. He has worked as Associate Director for many Broadway productions including Spider-Man, Follies, Lombardi, Million Dollar Quartet, White Christmas and A Man for All Seasons. Mr. Ruttera has also directed many shows for regional theatres across the U.S. including the Kennedy Center, La Jolla Playhouse and Gateway Playhouse.

Gerry McIntyre returns to the Ogunquit stage to choreograph Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He was last at the Ogunquit Playhouse in 2012 to choreograph 9 to 5 the Musical and in 2010 as the Director/Choreographer for Chicago. Mr. McIntyre’s long career, both on the stage, as director and choreographer has included many regional, Off-Broadway and Broadway productions including, the Dreamgirls National Tour, One Man Two Guvnors, My Fair Lady, A Chorus Line, Oklahoma, Candide, Legally Blonde, Urinetown, and Hairspray.

Michael McAssey is the Musical Director for the Ogunquit production. He has conducted and music directed the Broadway National Tours of Avenue Q and Titanic: The Musical, and toured with Donny Osmond playing piano for Liventʼs Joseph…Dreamcoat. He has music directed at theatres throughout New York and the U.S. for various productions that include Chicago, Man of LaMancha, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, White Christmas, Ragtime, Sunset Boulevard, Gypsy, Violet, Smokey Joe’s Café among others. He appeared with Barbara Cook and Patti LuPone in Paris and toured with Ms. LuPone in her nightclub act, The Argentina Turner Revue.

Set design for the Ogunquit Playhouse production is by Stanley A. Meyer and Jason M. Curtis. Mr. Meyer’s set designs have been seen in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, Aida at the Alliance Theatre, Treasure Island at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, and From Here to Eternity and Saturday Night Fever at Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival. He has been recognized for his work by the League of American Theatres and Producers, National Broadway Award, Drama League Awards, American Theatre Wing Award and New York Outer Critics Circle Award, as well as the Los Angeles Ovation Award. Mr. Curtis has been the assistant designer for International Tour of Beauty and the Beast, Saturday Night Fever and From Here To Eternity at Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival among others.

Sound Designer for the Ogunquit production is Don Hanna whose regional theatre credits include Million Dollar Quartet and Billy Elliot, as well as the National Tours of Million Dollar Quartet and Smokey Joe’s Cafe 20th Anniversary. Lighting Designer is Richard Latta who has created the lighting for dozens of Ogunquit Playhouse productions, including most recently The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Sister Act, Victor Victoria, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Million Dollar Quartet, Saturday Night Fever and White Christmas in addition to many regional theatres in the U.S.

 

Sting Like A Maccabee: Jews in Boxing



“Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing: A Photographic History”, By Mike Silver, Lyons Press, 2016. 344 pages with 255 photographs.

Reviewed by Len Abram

StarsAs coffee table books go – landscape printing and pictures prominent – this one is double expresso: a photographic history of Jewish boxers through the Golden Age of the sport, as well as a study of the context, from which Jews in boxing emerged, fought, lost and triumphed. Silver is an award-winning expert on boxing. Among his contributions was an exhibit in Philadelphia in 2004, “Sting Like A Maccabee: The Golden Age of the American Jewish Boxer.” This book may be its definitive outcome.

Silver’s scope here is larger than American Jewish boxers. England, the Netherlands, and Italy are also represented. We learn, for example, that the French boxer Victor “Young” Perez died heroically in the Holocaust. We find outstanding boxers among Jews, who were forced to flee the Nazis, all the way to Shanghai, China. Silver also covers Jewish managers, promoters, and writers, who contributed to the sport, including the owner of the famous gym of champions in New York, Stillman’s. With his American fighters, however, Silver’s story is as much about America as about any fighter with the Star of David on his trunks.

Silver’s story is as much about America as about any fighter with the Star of David on his trunks.

“No other sport lends so perfectly to metaphor,” Silver says. ‘Against the ropes’, ‘roll with a punch’, ‘down for the count’, ‘in your corner’, ‘on the ropes’, ‘throw in the towel’ – these clichés are drawn from boxing and perhaps remain more popular than the sport itself. The “Rocky” movie series and most recent pugilistic “The Southpaw” remind us that the theme of the down-and-out (another boxing reference) individual, who can redeem himself through boxing, is still compelling.

In the early decades of the 1900s, boxing was the most popular sport in America. In 1927, Babe Ruth earned $80,000 a season playing baseball, but the heavyweight champion Gene Tunney got around one million. At a time when a man in a sweatshop earned $20 per week for 12 to 14 hours a day, he might overlook his son’s black eye, if the young man had earned $20 for a four round bout.

During the Golden Era of Jewish participation in boxing, from the early 1900s to the late 1930s, upwards of 3,000 Jewish professional boxers were active, or about 7 to 10 percent of the total number.

From 1901 to 1939, Jews produced 29 world champions

From 1901 to 1939, Jews produced 29 world champions about 16% of the total. Silver is thorough with his statistics and little known details. Leach Cross (Dr. Louis Wallach), “the Fighting Dentist,” practiced dentistry during the day and fought at night. He made twice as much fighting. The first use of a mouth guard to protect the teeth came not from him, but from Ted “Kid” Lewis (Gershon Mendoloff) , who had a dentist make one out of rubber. The idea caught on.

Benny Leonard
Benny Leonard

How did Jewish mothers feel about their sons pummeled in the ring? Silver says that Jewish fighters feared their mothers, who opposed the sport, as unbefitting to the gentler Jewish values, of compassion and kindness. When lightweight champion Benny Leonard (Benjamin Leiner) was knocked down in a fight, his mother fainted. Leonard retired undefeated in 1925. A photograph shows the champion holding up his mother’s hand, a sign that she was the final victor.

Boxing is a violent sport, its purpose to inflict harm, its touted achievement to win by a knockout. Silver acknowledges that repeated blows to the head can damage a brain for life.

However, boxing can be an art and science, meaning the application of brain over brawn. Boxers use agility and speed to avoid being hit. They anticipate the moves of opponents and counter. An 18th century fighter, an English Jew named Daniel Mendoza, was so famous that he had an audience with King George III. At medium height and weight, Mendoza took on bigger and heavier opponents (weight classes later determined a fair match). Mendoza used his wits to outbox his competitors.

Silver’s outstanding figure among Jewish boxers is Benny Leonard

Silver’s outstanding figure among Jewish boxers is Benny Leonard champion from 1917 to 1925. The athlete as thinker, Leonard approached boxing as “a game of chess.” Silver reports that the day after a bout, Leonard was back in the gym, reviewing mistakes and successes from the night before. Leonard learned from everyone , including the youngest boxers in the gym.

Like so many others, including the great Barney Ross (Beryl Rosofsky), Leonard was the son of immigrants. He came out of a Jewish ghetto in Manhattan and fought his way to wealth and success. Many American fighters changed names according to the interests of the paying public for Irish, Italian and later for Jewish fighters.

Boxing leveled the playing field beyond the sport, as well. Joe Louis, a black man, became a national hero to both blacks and whites. The celebrated writer Pete Hamill grew up in a New York Irish-American home. As a youngster, he complained to his family about a “kike” boxer. His father corrected his anti-Semitism for good.

“Benny Leonard is a Jew,” he said.

(This article first appeared in the Jewish Advocate and is reprinted here with permission of the author.)

Rocky III and the Beginning of the End

Rocky III

Reviewed by David Curcio

51cFkLvMlLLFrom the opening credit sequence, it is difficult not to get at least a little pumped for Rocky III, the first of a series of codas to Rocky’s fairy tale. In a recap of the climactic fight from Rocky II, the ravaged Balboa and Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) tumble to the canvas at the same moment, effectively knocking each other out (in slow motion, naturally). The fight has been long and bloody, the count’s begun… but wait! Rocky is stirring, he’s getting up! As the count reaches roughly nine and three quarters, he rises to his feet, wobbling, teetering, and the new Champ.

It is perhaps the oddest, most unlikely outcome to a fight ever conceived

It is perhaps the oddest, most unlikely outcome to a fight ever conceived- especially a fight that would have been stopped by any sensible referee several rounds prior. But with the 80s in high gear, this extended fairy tale had become a cartoon, and not meant to reflect anything resembling boxing or, for that matter, reality. Then a whistle of fireworks explodes into an unholy amalgamation of neon, halogen, and pyrotechnics to blast Rocky’s name across the screen, and with the first stabbing guitar strains of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger belting out the opening montage, who cares about reality? We’re in it for the long haul, already sucked into this fantasy world. Clips flash by as Rocky defends his title, knocking out challenger after challenger with wild, spastic roundhouses before taking dainty bows (or are they curtseys?) like a lumpy Lord Fauntleroy, his hair as quaffed as his bespectacled cop in Tango and Cash. But he is also seen advertising credit cards and automobiles, appearing on The Muppets, and generally screwing off to further endear himself to the public. Rocky is a brand name now. As his opponents fall, an ominously pissed-off figure in the personage of no less than Mr. T is seen storming out of the arena. Meet Clubber Lang, an up-and-comer training alone in his small apartment, running through the slums, and knocking out opponents only to push the ref aside and continue his beatings. (This perversion of the most basic rule of boxing could actually give a ten year old boy – take me for example – the notion that there is a semblance of realism here.) Nevertheless, while Rocky may still be on top, he’s slacking. He’s getting cocky, and by the fadeout of Survivor’s power-rock classic, the good guy and the bad guy are pretty well established. (Though even a ten year-old knows Rocky’s the good guy – his name is in the film’s title.)

Living in a mansion with Adrienne (played by Talia Shire and her perpetually worried brow) and her slovenly, hanger-on brother Paulie (Burt Young and his perpetual stubble), Rocky Balboa drives around his grounds in a fancy golf cart with his son as he blows through his money and brain cells (see Rocky V and Creed). This is less worrying in the moment as his speech and vocabulary have grown admirably since the last installment, possibly due to his newfound affluenza (or the haircut). While Burgess Meredith’s grizzled, snarling Micky still manages and (presumably) trains him, Rocky’s growing soft, mentally complacent, ready to gather his chips and leave the game. If only it were that easy.

But before the drama kicks in, some action please. A fundraising exhibition match that amounts to an ominous pitch for the then-emerging World Wrestling Federation (This is where the fight game is headed?, a little voice seems to whisper) introduces the public to the young Hulk Hogan. He is Thunderlips, a name that serves only to confirm the deliberate pansexual personae of WWE wrestlers, likely and perhaps unconsciously adapted from the original Liberace of wrestling, Gorgeous George (also a major influence on Muhammed Ali, who’s braggadocio and feminized descriptions of himself as “pretty” and “beautiful” made its way into modern wrestling and 80s glam rock). Presumably more entertaining than Hogan’s 2012 sex tape with Bubba the Love Sponge’s estranged wife Heather Clem (who must pick her men based on the absurdity of their names), the two toss each other around the ring as the Hulk’s media image is cemented. And we didn’t even know what Gawker was yet. Who would have guessed he would have his own eponymous children’s cereal within the year?

Balboa’s Cinderella-like (sorry Braddock) rise to fame leads to the unveiling of a life-size bronze sculpture in his own likeness at the base of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps. While it has become a Philadelphia landmark, at the time it was a royal snub to the city’s own Joe Frazier, central to what many would consider boxing’s last great age and one year retired at the time of the film. Conceived of, written into the script, and paid for out-of-pocket by Sly “Mr. Modesty” Stallone himself, this makes it all less surprising. Moved and teary, he feigns unworthiness: “It’s beautiful,” he remarks (see previous sentence). In front of the adoring crowd, Rocky announces his plans to retire (the actor was already 36 at the time). Then a gravelly flow of angry heckling rises above the mob.

One cannot underestimate Mr. T’s popularity in the mid-80’s.

One cannot underestimate Mr. T’s popularity in the mid-80’s.Having cemented his tough-guy cred as bodyguard to Ali, Frazier, Leon Spinks, and others, Stallone offered him the role of Clubber Lang after seeing him on television’s “America’s Toughest Bouncer” ( a short-lived reality show that doesn’t even have its own wiki page). An early proponent of bling, mohawks, and feather earrings, he began his showbiz career as a villain, incorporating his catchphrase about pitying fools that was to become his staple as he remodeled himself as a friend to children through television appearances on kid’s prime time and anti-bullying PSAs on Saturday morning cartoons.

Presumably modeled after a loose amalgamation of Sonny Liston and Muhammed Ali (a terror-inducing presence and the inability to just shut up for just one minute, respectively), he begins to heckle and harangue Rocky, demanding a shot at the title. It takes but one, relatively tame suggestive comment directed at Adrienne during this most auspicious of occasions to throw Rocky into a frenzy: “You want it, you got it!” he yells, wriggling as Micky and Pauly, neither of whom could so much as lift a croissant, manage hold him back. Generally, there is a bit more to scheduling a Heavyweight Title fight, wherein negotiations between promoters and managers can take months or even years, state sanctioning rules can hold up bouts indefinitely… but screw it. Such details would make for some seriously boring cinema, so without further ado, the fight is on. With minimal training and Micky on his death bed (actually a bench), Rocky is swatted about like a mouse and kayoed in the second round. To top off a really crap day, Micky dies moments after the fight.

To top off a really crap day, Micky dies moments after the fight.

Poor Rocky is feeling despondent. He goes for a motorcycle ride, throws his helmet at his bronze likeness (careful Sly, you spent a lot of your own money on that thing!), and ends up in his training gym where, like all angry people do in movies when there is a speed bag around and they’re upset, punches it with all the menace of Don Knotts. Then out of the shadows emerges his old nemesis Apollo Creed. Just what was he was doing in a darkened gym besides waiting around on the off-chance that Rocky may show up remains a great cinematic mystery. But with Mickey dead, Apollo offers to train Rocky for a rematch, both out of the goodness of his heart and his desire to see Clubber Lang take a good clubbering himself (Clubber was rather rude to Apollo at the first fight). Within a couple of minutes old rivals become good friends.

The Stallion is treated to an impassioned speech by Apollo wherein he is told that, back when the two of them were fighting, Rocky had “the eye of the tiger.” While I have never gazed deep into the eye of an actual tiger, audiences will recall that, during the first two films, Rocky wore the worried expression of a guy who doesn’t know how he ended up where he did and is fairly certain he doesn’t belong there. The line comes off as a shill for the film’s soundtrack (or perhaps it was the other way around – it’s a chicken-and-egg question not worth pursuing).

The obligatory training montage for the rematch (and be grateful there is only one as I counted no less than three in Rocky IV) eschews raw eggs and running up the art museum steps for the gym and long runs on the beach as Gonna Fly Now once again assaults our auditory dignity. While every movie montage portends the obvious victory to come, the fighters’ Iron John training relationship carries more undertones of homoeroticism than a Jean Genet novel, with roadwork culminating in the two splashing about the waves and jumping up and down in an embrace like two giggling girls whose just found out they can have a sleepover. Then the screen freezes with the ding of a bell and it’s Welcome to Madison Square Garden. While the seventy five year-old Sinatra’s rendition of Bad Bad Leroy Brown at the same venue carried of more ludicrous action and threats of permanent brain damage than this fight, spoiler-alert etiquette forbids me to reveal the victor and once-again Heavyweight Champ.

Back in the darkened gym, Rocky and Apollo decide to have one last rematch of their own: right here, right now. No crowds, no ref, no doctor, no time keeping, and no bell. But again, what kind of geek really notices these picayune details? As the two simultaneously throw their first punch, the picture morphs into a paint-spattered, palette knife-slashed nightmare of a Leroy Neiman image of the mid-action freeze frame. That’s immortality, and in case there’s any doubt that we’ve reached the end of some kind of trilogy, it is abolished by the absolute certainty that another installment is not far off. So watch out, you Pinkos.

The Ogunquit Playhouse Welcomes New Development Director Dan Breen

The Ogunquit Playhouse welcomes Dan Breen as the new Development Director for the historic theatre.
The Ogunquit Playhouse welcomes Dan Breen as the new Development Director for the historic theatre.

Ogunquit, ME – The Ogunquit Playhouse is pleased to announce the appointment of Dan Breen to the position of Director of Development. Mr. Breen has 30 years of fundraising experience at educational and arts institutions including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Middlebury College. “The Ogunquit Playhouse is a treasure not only for the seacoast region, but for everyone who loves the highest quality musical theater,” said Breen.

Helping to preserve this powerful art form while working to secure and strengthen the physical plant of the Ogunquit Playhouse are two of the overarching goals Mr. Breen will work to achieve. Through building fundraising efforts, his plans are to increase the Ogunquit Playhouse membership program, expand the Hartwig Legacy Society and to work with the Board of Directors and the community to raise funds for the capital needs of the iconic National Historic Register theatre and campus.

Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney stated, “We are thrilled to have Dan Breen as part of our growing company to lead us in the area of fundraising in order to help insure our treasured Playhouse will be here for generations to come. As the Ogunquit Playhouse productions continue to reach new benchmarks within our industry, it is more important than ever to raise the funds necessary to preserve our historic building, and to enhance and equip our theatre to accommodate both our artistic goals and to enhance our public areas in order to create the best possible experience for our visitors.”

Dan Breen and his family have relocated from the Philadelphia area to Kittery Point. Please join us in welcoming Dan to the Ogunquit Playhouse.
About the Ogunquit Playhouse: 
The Ogunquit Playhouse, a 501c3 not-for-profit organization listed on the National Historic Register, is located on Route One in Ogunquit, Maine and produces the finest Broadway musicals each season with performances Tuesday through Sunday, from May 18 to November 6. Follow the Ogunquit Playhouse on Twitter (@OgunquitPH) and on Facebook (facebook.com/OgunquitPlayhouse) for behind-the-scenes info, photos and fun throughout the season. For a complete list of show times, pricing and more information about the season visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.

 

UP TO SCRATCH: Bareknuckle Fighting and Heroes of the Prize-Ring

 by Tony Gee

Foreword by Sir Henry Cooper OBE, KSG 

Book review by Mike Silver

51romSRaslL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Boxing is a very ancient sport with a history going back thousands of years. But the origins of modern boxing can be traced to 17th century England where the sport reemerged after a 1000 year hiatus. After the death of Oliver Cromwell the restored monarchy of Charles II (1660-1685) freed England from the yoke of Puritan restraint. As a result, the populace began to enjoy a wide variety of old and new sporting diversions, including boxing. London, with its roiling urban suburbs and large population of poor people, became the perfect spawning ground for a new generation of fistic exponents, although the sport did not properly take off until the following century.

Three hundred years ago the rules for the sport were quite different than today.

Three hundred years ago the rules for the sport were quite different than today. Combatants fought bare-fisted and were allowed to throw an opponent to the ground provided he was grabbed above the waist. A round ended when a fighter was punched, thrown, or wrestled to the ground. The downed fighter was then carried back to his corner by his seconds and given 30 seconds to rest before both fighters had to return to the “scratch mark” (originally their side of a three-foot-square drawn in the center of the ring). If a fighter was too damaged to “come up to scratch” or “toe the mark” within the allotted time, he forfeited the match. The loser was considered “knocked out of time.”

There was no proscribed time limit to a bareknuckle prizefight. The contest ended only when a boxer either failed to come up to scratch or was disqualified for fouling. After the “New Rules” of 1838 superseded the rudimentary “Broughton’s Rules” fouls included butting with the head, striking a fallen opponent, kicking, gouging the eyes, and biting. Depending on when it ended the length of a bareknuckle fight could be measured in minutes or sometimes hours. Contests ran the gamut from insufferably boring (much wrestling and stalling) to extremely savage, bloody, and sometimes fatal.

Both the rich (including members of the aristocracy) and poorer elements of English society enjoyed betting on the outcome of prizefights. From the 1780s to the 1820s, boxing’s popularity had reached a point where it was considered the country’s national sport. Important bouts attracted thousands of spectators from all walks of life. Some of the best fighters even enjoyed the patronage of a member of the royal family.

Author and historian Tony Gee immerses us into this colorful and fascinating world.

Author and historian Tony Gee immerses us into this colorful and fascinating world. The meticulously researched book was originally published in 1998 and has recently been reissued in both soft cover and kindle version. It remains to this day the quintessential history of the English bareknuckle scene.

Few people are as qualified as Tony Gee to chronicle this history. He is the world’s foremost authority on the bareknuckle era of pugilism and has advised the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Jewish Museum of London and has contributed several articles to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

“Up To Scratch” describes, in exquisite detail, the lives and battles, triumphs and tragedies, of some 70 pugilistic stars of the era. The vignettes are written in chronological order. Included are the exploits of such well-known bareknuckle bruisers as Daniel Mendoza, Tom Johnson, Jem Belcher, James “Deaf” Burke, Tom Sayers and Jem Mace.

While reading the bios of these hard men of the ring I was awestruck by their remarkable endurance and ability to withstand punishment often under the most trying of circumstances. Keep in mind that bareknuckle prizefights were fought outdoors and usually on bare turf. One of the many memorable stories the author describes is an 1827 contest between Ned Savage and Jem Wallace. During the bout a sudden and continuous downpour soaked the spectators and turned the ground into a quagmire. But no one wanted to see the fight called off, so the officials allowed it to continue.

As described by Gee: “The two combatants, covered in mud, waged an even, determined battle for two hours, although action then understandably flagged. At length, after a marathon 127 rounds lasting 147 minutes, Wallace was so completely exhausted that his friends gave in for him. Both men, totally insensible, were conveyed to the Swan, put to bed and bled. (This practice was then customary amongst the medical profession, but how it could help revive a fighter who had often already lost a lot of blood is difficult to comprehend – in fact, sometimes it could only have made matters worse.)” It is this type of detail that is common throughout the book.

One of the most unusual bouts described is a set-to that occurred in 1828. Both protagonists were dwarfs. Each fighter stood less than 4 feet tall and weighed under 100 pounds. “Despite the lack of interest shown by the Fancy, a large crowd was drawn to the event because of its strong novelty value.” The contest ended after 37 minutes.

Tony also describes an 1842 bout between the visiting American giant Charles Freeman, who was measured at 6 feet 9 inches tall (his height often exaggerated to over 7 feet) and the “Tipton Slasher”, William Perry. Other than size Freeman had little to recommend him.
“Unfortunately, like other giants who have attempted to find fistic fame through the years, Freeman’s boxing ability did not quite match up to his imposing physical appearance.” After this fight Freeman never fought again, preferring instead to concentrate on stage performances. The author’s research reveals what happened to the visiting American boxer after he retired from fistic combat: “Less than three years later he died, far from home, a victim of consumption brought on by careless living.”

There are also descriptions of fixed fights, fatal encounters, and behind the scenes maneuverings that shows how little things have changed over the centuries when it comes to the more corrupt and outlandish aspects of the sport.

The book comes to an end with a description of the downfall of bareknuckle boxing and the eventual acceptance of the Marquess of Queensberry rules that mandated boxing gloves and three minutes rounds with one minute of rest in between. As noted by the author; “Whilst its critics rejoiced in the demise of the traditional prize-ring, there were many who mourned the passing of an often corrupt, yet essentially noble, activity.”

In addition to a comprehensive bibliography and index the book is enhanced by several appendices that feature the nicknames of the fighters and another that defines boxing slang that was popular at the time such as “Bottom (Courage and fortitude), “Cove” (fellow), “Claret” (blood), “Fancy” (enthusiasts of a particular amusement, especially followers of the prize-ring), “Mill” (pugilistic encounter between two persons), “Muff” (someone awkward or stupid at an athletic pursuit), and many others.

Tony Gee is a wonderful storyteller. “Up to Scratch” provides a treasure trove of information about the lost world of bareknuckle boxing. It is an insightful look into one of boxing’s most dramatic and colorful eras and should be on the book shelf of every boxing fan in addition to anyone interested in this important aspect of England’s history.

Note: Boxing historian Mike Silver is the author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” (McFarland Publishing, 2008), and most recently “Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing: A Photographic History” (Lyons Press, 2016)

THE KINGSTON TRIO JOINS AMERICAN A CAPPELLA AT OCEAN STATE THEATRE

the Kingston TrioWARWICK, RI – The Kingston Trio, the groundbreaking, Grammy Award-winning American Pop-Folk group, joins 15-Time District Champions, Narragansett Bay Chorus, along with senior quartet champions, Trade Secret and up and coming collegiate stars, Curtain Call, for a very special American A Cappella show on Saturday, September 10, 2016 at 2:00 and 7:30pm.

In 1957, The Kingston Trio emerged from San Francisco’s North Beach club scene to take the country by storm, bringing the rich tradition of American folk music into the mainstream for the first time. During the late 50s & early 60s, the Trio enjoyed unprecedented record sales and worldwide fame, while influencing the musical tastes of a generation. Through changing times, the Trio has played on, remaining popular for a simple reason…great songs that sound as good today as the first time you heard them.

…great songs that sound as good today as the first time you heard them.

And fifty-eight years after Tom Dooley shot to the top of the charts, the Trio is still on the road thirty weeks a year, bringing back all the great memories and making new ones.

The Narragansett Bay Chorus is the performing unit of the Providence Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society – the largest male singing organization in the world! Competitively, the chorus has been the Society’s District winner on fifteen separate occasions.

Based in the Greater Providence area since 1949, the Narragansett Bay Chorus is a premier chorus that sings popular music a cappella in four-part harmony. They perform, primarily in the New England area, but have also performed in England, Canada, and across the United States. Membership includes men of all ages from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

American A Cappella featuring The Kingston Trio will be presented on Saturday, September 10 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm. The theatre is located at 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI. Tickets are $50 for premium seating, $40 for standard seating and $25 for value seating and are on sale at the box office Monday through Friday from 12 noon – 6:00 pm, Saturdays from 12 noon – 4:00 pm and performance days from 12 noon – curtain. Tickets are also available online 24 hours a day at www.OceanStateTheatre.org and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling (401) 921-6800.

Hartford Stage Announces Cast and Creative Team For Queens for a Year

Cast Features Local Actress and Broadway Veterans

September 16 through October 2

show-queensHARTFORD, CT — AUGUST 23, 2016 — Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak and Managing Director Michael Stotts announced today the cast and creative team for Queens for a Year, written by T.D. Mitchell and featuring local actress Vanessa R Butler.

The first show of Hartford Stage’s 2016-17 Season, Queens for a Year is a world premiere directed by Lucy Tiberghien, whose recent Off-Broadway credits include Don’t Go Gentle and Blind.

“We’re delighted to have Lucie Tiberghien and such a terrific cast joining us for this timely new play exploring the lives of women serving in the military,” said Elizabeth Williamson, Associate Artistic Director.

Butler’s credits include Gross Domestic Product and Jimmy and Lorraine at HartBeat Ensemble; Juliet in Romeo & Juliet at Capitol Classics; and Freedom: In 3 Acts at Bated Breath Theatre Company.

The cast also includes Heidi Armbruster, Time Stands Still on Broadway; Mary Bacon, Arcadia on Broadway; Alice Cannon, James Joyce’s The Dead on Broadway; Sarah Nicole Deaver, Henry V at Rutgers University; Mat Hostetler, the War Horse national tour; Charlotte Maier, God of Carnage on Broadway; and Jamie Rezanour, Romeo & Juliet at the Classical Theatre of Harlem.

In addition to Tiberghien, the creative team includes set design by Daniel Conway (Horton Foote’s Lily Dale Off-Broadway); lighting design by Robert Perry (Love in Afghanistan at Arena Stage); costume design by Beth Goldenberg (Engagements at Second Stage Theatre); sound design by Victoria Toy Deiorio (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre); and dramaturgy by Elizabeth Williamson (Anastasia, The Body of an American).

Lori M. Doyle (The Visit on Broadway) will serve as production stage manager.

In Queens for a Year, Molly Solinas, a young Marine Corps Officer, unexpectedly returns to her family home in Virginia, bringing with her an even younger female Private. Four generations of women who’ve served their country in the Marines clash during what at first appears to be a post-deployment vacation – but is revealed to be much more.

“I am grateful to Queens for a Year for telling this difficult story and shedding a light on women in the military,” said Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator, New York.

Mitchell, best known as a writer on the popular Lifetime series “Army Wives,” has earned accolades for many works, including her plays Beyond the 17th Parallel (National Endowment for the Arts Artistic Excellence Grant, soon to be adapted for film), A Gray Matter, In Dog Years and the upcoming VRTU-L.

 

Previews begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 8
Opening Night: 8 p.m. Friday, September 16
Closes: 2 p.m. Sunday, October 2

Tickets & Performances

Tue, Wed, Thu, Sun at 7:30 p.m.—Fri, Sat at 8 p.m.—Sat, Sun at 2 p.m.
Wed matinee at 2 p.m. on September 21 only
Weekly schedules vary. For details, visit www.hartfordstage.org.

Tickets for all shows start at $25. For group discounts (10 or more), contact Theresa MacNaughton at 860-520-7114.

For all other tickets, please call the Hartford Stage box office at 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.

Special Events

Sunday Afternoon Discussion, September 18

Enjoy a lecture from artists and scholars connected with the production immediately following the 2 p.m. matinee. Free

AfterWords Discussion

Tuesdays, September 20 and 27 & Wednesday, September 21

Join members of the cast and our Artistic staff for a free discussion, immediately following select 7:30 p.m. performances on Tuesday or the 2 p.m. Wednesday matinee.

 

 

 

SpeakEasy Stage Presents “Significant Other”

From September 9 to October 8, 2016, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present SIGNIFICANT OTHER, a sharply observed new comedy about the challenges of finding love and letting go, written by Bad Jews playwright Joshua Harmon.

so-website_bannerSlated to begin previews on Broadway in February, 2017, SIGNIFICANT OTHER tells the story of Jordan Berman, a 29 year old single gay man whose life up until now has revolved around BFF’s Kiki, Laura, and Vanessa. But as singles nights suddenly turn into bachelorette parties, Jordan starts to worry about his romantic prospects, and sets out on a journey to find his own Mr. Right.

SIGNIFICANT OTHER is the latest from playwright Joshua Harmon, whose play Bad Jews was the third most-produced play in the United States during the 14-15 theatre season. A recent graduate of Julliard, Mr. Harmon has received fellowships from MacDowell, Atlantic Center for the Arts, SPACE at Ryder Farm, and the Eudora Welty Foundation.  He is currently at work on commissions for Roundabout Theatre Company, Lincoln Center Theater, and Manhattan Theatre Club.

SpeakEasy Founder and Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault will direct this New England premiere production of SIGNIFICANT OTHER. Mr. Daigneault’s recent SpeakEasy directing credits include the acclaimed productions of Violet, Mothers & Sons, Big Fish, The Color Purple, In the Heights, and Next to Normal. Mr. Daigneault is the recipient of three Elliot Norton Awards, including the 2014 Norton Award for Sustained Excellence.

Norton Award nominee Greg Maraio and Norton Award winner Kathy St. George head the cast, which also includes Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Jordan Clark, Eddie Shields, Kris Sidberry, and Jared Troilo.

The design team is Christopher & Justin Swader (scenic); Tyler Kinney (costumes); Daniel H. Jentzen (lighting) and Lee Schuna (sound).

SIGNIFICANT OTHER will run for five weeks, from September 9 through October 8, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.
For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .

 

 

Seven Brides for Brothers Bursts onto the Ogunquit Playhouse Stage

The Rip-Roarin’ Musical Comedy Classic Runs From September 7 to October 1

2016_Seven-Brides_Thumb-3Pull up your boots and hold onto your hats when this all-dancing, all-singing, all-new production of the rip-roarin’ musical comedy classic bursts onto the Ogunquit Playhouse stage September 7 to October 1. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a big, brawling, rollicking show filled with rambunctious energy and set in 1850s Oregon Territory with a book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Gene de Paul, and new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. This beloved musical based on the glorious MGM hit film and Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story “The Sobbin’ Women” tells the story of Adam Pontipee and his backwoods brothers’ unusual pursuit of brides. When Adam goes to town to get a wife, he miraculously convinces the beautiful and feisty Milly to marry him that same day, and then she immediately starts reforming her six rowdy brothers-in-law. When her plan to marry off the boys backfires, this exuberant rousing musical kicks into high gear with a combination of daredevil dancing and wonderful songs like “Goin’ Courtin,” “Sobbin’ Women,” and “Wonderful, Wonderful Day.”

Nathaniel Hackman
Nathaniel Hackman

Broadway performers will headline the Ogunquit production. Starring as Adam Pontipee is Nathaniel Hackmann who is making his Ogunquit Playhouse debut. Mr. Hackmann has appeared on Broadway in Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast, and Paint Your Wagon. He has also performed in many regional theatres throughout the U.S. in shows that include Oliver!, Sweeney Todd, Oklahoma!,

Analisa Leaming
Analisa Leaming

Camelot and many more. Also making her Ogunquit Playhouse debut is Analisa Leaming who is cast as Milly. Ms. Leaming recently appeared on Broadway in the Lincoln Center production of The King and I and in Roundabout Theatre’s production of On the Twentieth Century starring Kristin Chenoweth. She has performed in regional theatres in shows including Mary Poppins as Mary, The Sound of Music as Maria, The Music Man as Marian Paroo, and many others.

Adam’s brothers are played by Kevin Munhall (Broadway: Anything Goes; Ogunquit Playhouse: West Side Story) as Benjamin, Colin Bradbury (Broadway: Come Fly Away) as Caleb, Brian Martin (Nat’l Tour: Bullets Over Broadway) as Daniel, Abe Hegewald (Sir Tim Rice’s North American Premiere of From Here to Eternity) as Ephraim, Jeff Smith (Ogunquit Playhouse: West Side Story; Damn Yankees) as Frank, and Justin Schuman (1st Nat’l Tour: Nice Work If You Can Get It) as Gideon. The brides are played by Kelly Berman as Alice, Becky Grace Kalman as Sarah, Shelby Putlak as Liza, Maria Cristina Slye as Dorcas, Chloe Tiso as Martha, and Lizz Picini (Ogunquit Playhouse: West Side Story) as Ruth, who is also the Assistant Choreographer for the Ogunquit production.

For ticket information visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box Office at 207-646-5511.

 

“45 Plays For 45 Presidents” Opens At Merrimack Repertory

“45 PLAYS FOR 45 PRESIDENTS” OFFERS BOTH HUMOR AND INSIGHT TO KICK OFF MRT SEASON
227 YEARS OF AMERICAN HISTORY IN 2 HOURS
SEPTEMBER 7 – OCTOBER 2, 20

45PlaysFor45Presidents 470x470_0Just in time for the general election, Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) offers offers a one-of-a-kind take on the epic sweep of American history with “45 Plays for 45 Presidents.” In just two hours, through nearly every theatrical device imaginable, we see the highs and lows our country has hit over decades and centuries. With each commander-in-chief in the spotlight for two minutes, we experience not only their lives, but the distinctive American eras in which they served. And ultimately, we appreciate that our nation’s story is one that we all have written—and continue to write—every time we vote.

“45 Plays for 45 Presidents” runs approximately 2 hours, including one intermission. Performances are September 7 – October 2. Press performances are at 8:00 pm on Saturday, September 10 (Opening Night), and 2:00 pm on Sunday, September 11. All performances will be held at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street in historic downtown Lowell. Tickets range from $70 – $26 and are on sale now at www.mrt.org or by calling 978-654-4678.
The evening ends with the audience voting on who the 45th president—and what the 45th play—will be; each audience will see either a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump play to close the show. MRT is partnering with Rock the Vote and Lowell Votes to encourage voter registration in the lobby.

About Play and its Creators
The Neo-Futurists, whose legendary “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” has been a staple of the Chicago theatre scene since 1988, first presented this presidential play in 2002, then called “43 Plays for 43 Presidents.” Four of its five writers were members of the troupe, which is renowned for an in-the-moment aesthetic and innovative, multi-modal storytelling. The writers—Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston, and Karen Weinberg—created the show not as a series of impersonations, but rather as a set of fully realized theatre pieces that explore the thoughts, feelings, triumphs, and failures of the individuals we have chosen to lead our country—as well as of their families, colleagues, and adversaries.

One of the playwrights, Andy Bayiates, is a Billerica native, who was born at Lowell General Hospital. He is credited as the “Founding Father” of the play for the major role he played in its creation.

MRT Artistic Director Sean Daniels has been directing the play every presidential election season since 2004, and returns to direct again here. When he directed the play in at Dad’s Garage Theatre Co. in Atlanta, Georgia, Jimmy Carter attended (and really enjoyed the Reagan play) and subsequently invited the cast to perform at the Carter Center. Daniels later directed the play at Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky and Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY. Of the original Chicago production, Daniels recalls: “I thought it was so smart, and so well-done. How often do you get to see a full American civics lesson in less than two hours? To see the choices we’ve made as a country, over and over again?”

More About the Production
One thing Daniels loves about “45 Plays…” is that it keeps changing, as public perceptions of certain presidents evolve. This year, Barack Obama and George Herbert Walker Bush will both have their plays rewritten. “You find that we all share the same opinions about the first 16 presidents. Everyone loves George Washington… but suddenly when we talk about Reagan, everyone feels very strongly, one way or the other, about what it all means… One thing that’s exciting for me is that the writers have to continually update it, because public ideas change.”

Audiences at MRT’s production will be immersed in diverse storytelling approaches, both comical and serious: ballet, puppetry, personal narrative, prop-driven physical theatre, and Schoolhouse Rock-style musical numbers all converge into a cohesive whole. The set will use projection panels and light boxes scattered across the MRT stage, and costumes will be crafted to represent changing American fashion across the eras. Scene change music will transform as the show progresses to reflect the popular music of each president’s tenure.

Creative Team and Cast
The five-person cast includes Veronika Duerr (MRT’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” and “Home of the Brave”), Nael Nacer (MRT’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play”), and Terrell Donnell Sledge (MRT’s “The Realness: a break beat play”), as well as newcomers Celina Dean and Aaron Muñoz.

Director Daniels is joined by a creative team that includes Wendy Seyb (Choreography), Michael Raiford (sets), Brian J. Lilienthal (lights), A. Lee Viliesis (costumes), Stowe Nelson (sound), and Ido Levran (projections programmer).

Admission
Tickets range from $70 – $26 and are available at www.mrt.org or by calling 978-654-4678. A senior discount is offered for 10% off adult ticket prices. Student tickets are $15. Group discounts are available for groups of six or more by calling 978-654-7561. $5 Night: Wednesday, September 7 at 7:30 pm. Patrons may purchase tickets for $5, cash only, at the Box Office between 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm. Limit 2 tickets per person. Lowell Night: Wednesday, September 14 at 7:30 pm. Lowell residents may purchase tickets for $10 at the box office from 4:30 pm-7:30 pm. Proper ID required, limit 2 per person. A Military Discount of $10 off per ticket (up to four tickets per production) applies to any performance for active duty, retired, veteran, and reservist members of the military.

Duran v Buchanan

Should Buchanan Have Been Declared The Winner
By Disqualification?

by Bobby Franklin

(This piece was first published in the Boston Post Gazette in January of 2014.)
It was June 26, 1972 and the very popular Lightweight Champion from Scotland Ken Buchanan was stepping into the ring to defend his title against the challenger from Panama, Roberto Duran. Buchanan won the title in 1970 by outpointing champion Ishmael Laguna over 15 rounds under a very hot sun in San Juan, Puerto Rico. That same year the New York Boxing Writers’ Association named him Fighter of the Year, the first time a non American was so honored. Ken was an active champion in both defending his title and also participating in non-title matches. He was well liked by fans in the United States.

Duran-vs-BuchananDuran was a relative unknown at the time of the fight. He had built up an impressive undefeated record scoring 28 straight wins with only four lasting the distance and eleven ending in the first round. He had just one fight in the United States scoring a sensational one round knockout over journeyman Benny Huertas in NY on September 13, 1971. Was he a great knock out artist or just another unknown with a padded record? His trainers Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown knew the answer to that. They were two of the best in the business and worked hard to develop Duran’s raw power into savvy boxing skills.

The fight took place in Madison Square Garden before 18,000 fans. From the opening bell Buchanan knew he was in for a rough night as he hit the canvas within the first minute. Duran pressured and hammered the game Buchanan round after round. Bulling him into the ropes and slamming him with everything in his arsenal.

Despite the onslaught, Buchanan fought back gamely.

Despite the onslaught, Buchanan fought back gamely.He used a very fast jab in an attempt to keep Duran at bay, but the challenger was able to counter that with a very sharp and powerful right hand. Duran was rough, tossing in elbows and a number of blows that were low as well as shoving and pushing Buchanan through the ropes. He was warned only once by referee Johnny LoBianco about the low blows, and that wasn’t until the 12th round.

The fight was all Duran with Buchanan maybe winning one or two rounds going into the 11th. This is where I noticed a change in the dynamic of the fight. While the champion certainly wasn’t turning the tide, he was continuing to fight hard and hadn’t slowed down. It was at this point I saw Duran becoming frustrated with his inability to stop or to again floor Ken. He started getting wild with his punches and was talking to Buchanan.

He started getting wild with his punches and was talking to Buchanan.

It was a frustration that I would later see in his rematch with Ray Leonard, the famous No Mas Fight. Duran just had to keep the pressure on and continue with his game plan to win a decision, but he desperately wanted a knock out. In the corner you could see Ray Arcel getting angry with Roberto and urging him to calm down. Duran was starting to turn this into a more difficult fight as Buchanan was beginning to land on him. I am by no means implying Ken was taking charge of the fight, but it was becoming interesting. It also has to be remembered that Buchanan won the title by coming on in the late rounds against Laguna. In boxing it truly ain’t over till it’s over.

400px-Duran-Buchanan_The-end-of-the-fightNow for the controversy: The bell rings for the 13th round and Duran comes out with fire in his eyes. He is all over the champion who continues to fight back gamely. Ken still has plenty of life left in his legs and is not going to give up his championship easily. Duran bulls him to the ropes, and fires away at him, but Roberto’s punches are wider now, he is also getting hit with more jabs. He desperately wants to end the fight. He has Buchanan against the ropes when the bell sounds ending the round. After the bell rings Duran fires a right hand to the body that lands well below the belt line. The champion falls to the canvas in great pain. He is taken to his corner where the referee takes a quick look at him and stops the fight giving the title to Duran.

Gil Clancy, who was working Ken’s corner that night, made no protest over the stoppage. That was very odd behavior coming from the usually outspoken Clancy. When referee Johnny LoBianco was interviewed by commentator Don Dunphy immediately after the fight he told Don it was not a low blow, and if it had been it would make no difference as it was “impossible’ to be hurt by a low blow because of the protective cup being worn by the fighter. Look at the photo of the punch being landed and you will clearly see it was low. If it had been called a low blow by the ref, Buchanan would have been given five minutes to recover. Also,

LoBianco did admit the punch landed after the bell.

LoBianco did admit the punch landed after the bell.He said he stopped the fight because of that blow, and if it hadn’t landed he would have allowed the fight to continue. He clearly states he ended the fight because of the blow, which by his own admission, was landed illegally. He states that Buchanan was in no condition to continue because of that punch. Going by LoBianco’s own words, Duran should have been disqualified and Buchanan allowed to retain his title. I know Duran was well ahead in the fight, but this fight ended because of an illegal blow, a fact that was acknowledged by the referee.

Questions linger. Why did Clancy remain silent? At the very least a protest would have ensured a rematch. Why did Duran’s team refuse to fight Buchanan again? Why did LoBianco never referee another championship bout? And finally, did we see a flaw in Duran that night that would lead to his quitting against Leonard years later? I believe Duran was one of the greatest fighters of all time. He was devastating, but as with all great fighters, he had his flaws. He would get frustrated with fast moving boxers, and, even though he would be beating them, he would become impatient if it appeared he was being outboxed.

As controversies go, I am sure this doesn’t rate high on a lot of fight fan’s lists, but I still think there are questions to be answered. I have included video of the 13th round including the interview with referee LoBianco aCheck out the fight and pay attention to the interview with LoBianco as well as footage of the entire fight. See what you think.

A Moment From Walcott vs Ray

Jersey Joe Walcott
VS
Elmer “Violent” Ray
A Split Second In That Fight

by Bobby Franklin

Walcott Ray

Followers of this column know I occasionally like to take a photograph from a fight that took place years ago and study it to see what it shows about how the contestants plied their trade. The reason I choose photos from an earlier time in boxing is because it is impossible to find any taken today that show the fighters doing any of these moves.The art and technique no longer exist,

The art and technique no longer exist

and that is borne out by these photos.

The latest in this series is a shot taken during either the second or third fight between Jersey Joe Walcott and Elmer “Violent” Ray. Both fights took place within a few months of each other and both resulted in very close decision wins, one for Ray and the final contest for Walcott. The two had fought each other once before early in their careers when Walcott scored a knockout over Ray. The first fight was in 1937. The final two were in 1946 and 1947.

Fight fans are well versed in the career of Walcott, the man who at the time was the oldest to win the Heavyweight Title. It can be strongly argued he was the best heavyweight of all time when it came to technical skills. He was fast, agile, could punch with the kick of a mule, and had great stamina. He was a true artist when in the ring, and like any great artist he constantly practiced his craft,

like any great artist he constantly practiced his craft

always striving to improve and learn new things. I have been told that if he was in the gym and through working out he would sit and watch other fighters training, even the amateurs. When asked why he would take the time to observe amateurs sparring he reportedly answered, “Because I might learn something, a new move, that I don’t already know.”
Walcott was a master tactician who studied boxing the way a medical student studies anatomy. He would practice his footwork as if it were choreography, which it actually is. To watch Jersey Joe in the ring is to watch a true master at work. Relaxed yet intense.

Elmer “Violent” Ray is an intriguing figure. The man had an incredible record; A total of 108 bouts with 85 wins. A remarkable 64 of those wins were by knock out. He lost just 17 contests and had 5 draws.From October of 1943 until his third fight with Walcott in March of 1947,

Elmer had 50 consecutive fights without a loss

Elmer had 50 consecutive fights without a loss Not only is that an outstanding accomplishment given the period he was fighting in, it is also a huge number of fights to have in approximately 3 and a half years.

While some may question the quality of the opposition he faced, a few names do jump out at me. He kayoed Lee Savold and Jay D. Turner as well as having the win over Walcott. He couldn’t have been fighting all stiffs and been able to come up with those wins.

There is little known about Ray. No film exists of his fights, and nobody seems to know what became of him after he gave up boxing. He just seems to have disappeared. If he had won the third fight with Walcott it is likely he would have gotten the title shot against Joe Louis instead of Jersey Joe. Instead, he fought on for a couple of more years, winning a close decision over Ezzard Charles and then being kayoed by Charles in a rematch. Not long after he quit boxing and vanished like Keyser Soze in the movie “The Usual Suspects”.

Now to the photo. This is another of those amazing pictures that captures so much of what is happening in this fight. Though it is just a fraction of a second of action, it shows us two very skilled fighters at work. We see that Walcott has moved to his right and has let fly a very hard right hand. It is possible he feinted Ray with a jab before doing this as Elmer’s right hand appears to be in position to parry a jab. His left is low but also in position to deliver a hook to the body.

Joe is putting the force of his entire body behind the blow. You can see how he has shifted the weight of his body from his right foot to his left, up on the toes of his right and flat footed with the left. He has also dropped his right shoulder further increasing the force of the blow. Just look at the power and torque in his shoulder and chest muscles. His eyes are focused on Ray, and you can see he is ready to follow up with the left hook.

Jack Dempsey used to say he got his power by punching from his hips

Jack Dempsey used to say he got his power by punching from his hips You can clearly see how Joe has put his hip into this blow. His entire core is at play here. In this photo Walcott is giving a master class in how to throw a right hand.

So, what about Elmer Ray? Well, he certainly is no slouch. As great a move as Walcott has just pulled off, it appears from Elmer’s position that he was sucked in by the feint, but he has reacted well to the move. As soon as he realized what was coming he went to a defensive move and slipped under the punch. Because it happened so fast he is still feeling the power of the blow, but Walcott does not connect to a vulnerable area of Ray’s anatomy. Elmer Ray shows us the art of slipping a punch. Remember, he didn’t have time to think about what he was going to do. He made this great move because he had practiced it over and over again. You are seeing two masters at work.

I would also call your attention to the referee. He is on his toes and as focused on the action as the boxers. He is out of the way but in a position to step in if needed. All three of these men are consummate professionals.

I get more enjoyment just looking at this photo than I can get out of watching any of the so called champs of today in a live fight. Maybe they should take some time to look at pictures such as this. They might learn something. Of course, it would probably just confuse them.

You’re In Good Company At The Lyric Stage

Stephen Sondheim’s Company

Directed by Spiro Veloudos

The Lyric Stage Boston

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Bobby (John Ambrosino)
Bobby (John Ambrosino)

I am embarrassed to admit it, but in all the years I have been attending theatre I have, until now, never seen Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”. Well, I guess the theatre gods wanted me to wait for the Lyric Stage’s production directed by Spiro Veloudos. The gods were smiling on me as I doubt I could have seen a better staging of this wonderful play anywhere else. The wait was worth it.

The play which was considered groundbreaking when it first appeared in 1970 takes on the subject of marriage, commitment, and non commitment. It centers around Bobby, the one person in his circle of friends who has not been in a committed relationship. His friends are concerned that Bobby is not in a relationship, and they are trying to fix him up or convince him that “A person is not complete until married.”

At the same time, we get to explore the question of just how happy Bobby’s married friends are. The songs “The Little Things You Do Together” and “Sorry-Grateful” capture the conflict many couples have using an on the one hand, on the other hand theme.

“Company” is a play that, while dealing with a subject, marriage and commitment that can be touchy and emotional, and is something we all have experienced in some way, it never makes you feel uncomfortable. The music is classic Sondheim, meaning it is simply wonderful. There is humor, and

the cast, without exception, is a joy to watch

the cast, without exception, is a joy to watch.

As I was leaving the theatre two moments stayed in my thoughts. One is when Amy, who is engaged to be married but is getting cold feet, tells Bobby “You are afraid not to get married, and I am afraid to get married.” The other was the song “Marry Me A Little” sung by Bobby. He is onto something.

April (Adrianne Hick), Marta (Carla Martinez), Kathy (Maria LaRossa)
April (Adrianne Hick), Marta (Carla Martinez), Kathy (Maria LaRossa)

There is not a bad seat at the Lyric Stage, but they are limited. I recommend you get tickets soon before it sells out as it most certainly will. Don’t wait. who knows when the gods will send us another production as fine as this one.

Company now through October 9th at The Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Copley Square, Boston. 617.585.5678
lyricstage.com

Photos: Mark S. Howard

A Dancing Feast At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

Through October 1st

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

I have to say I was not particularly excited by the thought of seeing Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. It has never been high on my list of movie musicals, though when it was released in 1954 it was a hit and earned an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical and a nomination for Best Picture. In 1982 it was staged on Broadway but did not last long. It has been revived a number of times over the years with changes being made as it went along.

Frank (Jeff Smith) Challenge Dance Photo: Jay Goldsmith
Frank (Jeff Smith) Challenge Dance
Photo: Jay Goldsmith

The production now playing through October 1st at the Ogunquit Playhouse has original choreography by Parker Esse, a man with no shortage of talent. And it is the dancing that makes this an enjoyable evening of theatre. Oh, the scenery, as usual at the Playhouse, is lovely, and the cast is strong, especially Analisa Leaming as Millie playing opposite Nathaniel Hackman as Adam.Ms Leaming is tall and beautiful with a lovely voice

Ms Leaming is tall and beautiful with a lovely voice

and she knows how to command the stage. Mr. Hackman fits the part of the strong and stubborn mountain man in search of a wife with his deep and full voice. But it is ultimately the dancing that makes this worth seeing.

A nice touch is having members of the orchestra come out onto the stage in costume for a number of the songs. The very lively Challenge Dance number is outstanding with amazing physicality. It is really something to see the potential brides being tossed over the heads of their suitors. The dancers were in perfect sync.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw, but I should never underestimate what the team at the Playhouse can accomplish with  Artistic Director Brad Kenney in charge. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a terrific old fashioned musical that makes for a fun time at the theater. This is one for the entire family to enjoy. It will make you feel like dancing down the aisle on the way out of the theater.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers at the Ogunquit Playhouse
Directed by BT McNicholl
Through October 1st.
Box Office: 207.646.5511
OgunquitPlayhouse.org

There’s A Lot More To Ingo

Ingemar Johansson:
Swedish Heavyweight Champion
By Ken Brooks
(McFarland, 272 pages, $29.95)
www.McFarlandpub.com 800-253-2187

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

978-0-7864-9847-5A few weeks ago I wrote a piece for the Post Gazette about Heavyweight Champion Ingemar Johansson. In the limited research I did on that story I learned what a fascinating character the man with Toonder in his right hand was. In the time since that column appeared I have had the opportunity to read Ken Brooks’ detailed biography of the former world champion.

In recent years biographies of boxers have been coming out on an almost daily basis. Most are labors of love. Many are well researched but poorly edited. Some are quite good. And a few rise to the top of the heap. This book is one of those that deserves a wide readership.

Mr. Brooks has done meticulous research, organized his material, given an array of footnotes to back up that research, and ends up with a lively narrative about a fascinating figure in the world of boxing

a lively narrative about a fascinating figure in the world of boxing

. Though he clearly admires his subject, this is no hagiography.

Ingemar was born in Goteborg, Sweden in 1932, the son of Ebba and Jens Johansson. His father, Jens, was a street paver and it is from him that young Ingo inherited his great physical strength.

The young Swede was not particularly fond of school work, nor did he do well when dealing with authority figures. His career in the military was less than stellar. But this disdain for being a team player made him a perfect candidate for the sport of boxing where an athlete is on his own and answers to no one but himself.
Ingo ran up an impressive amateur boxing record culminating in his representing Sweden in the 1952 Olympics. Fighting against American Eddie Sanders in the final Ingo was disqualified for “lack of effort”. Johansson returned to Sweden in shame and with the press writing off any hopes of his having a future in boxing.

Well, not only did he prove the press wrong by going on to win the European Heavyweight title, he also became the first Swede to hold the World Heavyweight Championship. But, he did much more than that.

Even though Ingemar was champion for less than a year, he singlehandedly revived boxing which, under the reign of Floyd Patterson, had begun to become more of a sideshow.

Ingo1In this book Ken Brooks writes not only about Johansson, but also pens an excellent history of boxing during the late 50s and early 60s. It turns out Cus D’Amato was not the valiant warrior against organized crime that so many believe he was. He had his own criminal connections, and Mr. Brooks lets us in on them. While D’Amato is remembered for standing up to Jim Norris and the IBC, he was not looking to clean up boxing. Rather, he was attempting to make his own power grab. This all makes for fascinating and enlightening reading.

It is interesting to contrast Johansson’s rise up the ranks with the two best known of D’Amato’s protege’s, Patterson and Mike Tyson. Mr. Brooks points out the fact that Ingo never fought an opponent who had a losing record

Ingo never fought an opponent who had a losing record

. Every one of his fights were against fighters who had more wins than losses. Compare that with the steady stream of hand picked opponents that both Mike and Floyd faced on the way up. Ingo earned his title shot by knocking out number one contender Eddie Machen, a man Patterson refused to grant a chance to.

On the night he won the title from Patterson with a devastating seven knockdowns in the third round, very few people gave Johansson any chance of winning the fight. He didn’t appear to have trained very hard for the fight, and in the first round he didn’t appear particularly fired up. Ingo’s laid back personality carried through with him when he climbed through the ropes. The reality was, even though he often seemed disinterested in boxing and more interested in having a good time, Johansson loved boxing and took it very seriously.

Johansson loved boxing and took it very seriously

He had developed an awkward yet effective style that worked well enough to gain him the world title.

Ken Brooks covers much ground in his taut and concise book. Readers learn about Howard Cosell’s first time behind the mic for a national broadcast. The unlikely friendship between Sonny Liston and Johansson. Ingo actually made Sonny smile, and they enjoyed each other’s company. We get the truth behind the two round sparring session between a young Cassius Clay and the former champion that took place before the third Patterson fight in Miami. A myth has grown around this, and once again, the author delves into what actually happened that day.

Ingo and Sonny
Ingo and Sonny

Ingemar’s social life was more one of Hollywood celebrity than professional athlete. The new champion was extremely popular in the United States, particularly among females. His good looks and dimpled chin coupled with his charm made him very sought after. Among his paramours was Elizabeth Taylor. You can get a glimpse of this attraction by looking on Youtube at his appearance on What’s My Line as well as his time on the Dinah Shore Show where he sings and banters with his host. The Champ had a great singing voice.

Mr. Brooks also gives us details on Ingo’s marriages and home life. The saddest part is the description of his final years when dementia set in. Johansson did not want people to think his illness had come from boxing. He loved the sport that much, but it was indeed the tragic outcome of the blows he took to the head.

On a happier note, Ingo was one of the few boxers to leave the sport financially well off. He eventually bought a small motel in Florida where he enjoyed a number of very happy years. He also resisted a number of lucrative offers to return to the ring. When he was done fighting the decision was final.

Ingemar Johansson: Swedish Heavyweight Boxing Champion is a must read even for the most casual of boxing fans. Ingo deserved to have a good book written about him, and Ken Brooks has done him that service.

What Are Friends For

Significant Other”
SpeakEasy Stage
Now Through October 8th

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Significant Other  by Joshua Harmon, who’s Bad Jews was a great hit last year, opens with Jordan Berman (Greg Maraio) celebrating the news of his friend Kiki’s (Sarah Elizabeth Bedard) engagement to be married. Kiki and Jordan are joined by two other long time friends Laura (Jordan Clark) and Vanessa (Kris Sidberry). They are sharing a scorpion bowl and Kiki is feeling no pain. Soon the conversation turns to Jordan, who is gay, and how it is time for him to find a significant other. We learn that Jordan tends to obsess over romantic interests and is now attracted to Will (Jared Troilo) from his office, who may or not be gay.

Vanessa, Jordan, and Laura (Photo: Justin Saglio)
Vanessa, Jordan, and Laura
(Photo: Justin Saglio)

As the play progresses we watch as Jordan pursues Will both in real life and in fantasy. It is very interesting to see how this is staged, having Jordan speak to his friends while also in the moment with Will. It is almost as if the action pauses so he can update his friends. The effect works very well.

As time goes on we see that Jordan has not been able to make a connection with Will or any other man. Meanwhile, Vanessa and Laura join Kiki in walking down the bridal path. This leads Jordan to feeling a bit of a loser. He also begins to feel he is losing his friends and his sadness turns to anger when he confronts Laura at her bachelorette party. it was at this point Jordan started to get under my skin. Sorry, I just cannot feel sorry for someone that selfish.

At first I felt sadness for for Jordan, but my sadness turned to anger at him for his selfishness and inability to understand that life moves on and people have changes in their lives.It does not mean friendships end, but they do change, and he just cannot accept that.

It does not mean friendships end, but they do change

Throughout the play he pays visits to his elderly grandmother Helene (Kathy St. George) and hears advice about life and aging, though nothing  really seems to resonate with him.

Vanessa, Jordan, and Kiki )Photo: Justin Seglio)
Vanessa, Jordan, and Kiki
)Photo: Justin Seglio)

As I was watching Significant Others I couldn’t help but think about Company which I had seen last week. Company had a similar theme about people moving on with their lives and dealing with how these changes effect friendships. What I found striking was, even though the characters in Company are only a few years older than those in Significant Others, they are much more mature than Jordan and his friends. Company was written in 1970, and I think by comparing the two we see how much longer it takes people to grow out of adolescence today. There were times during this play when I just wanted to shout out “Grow up, the world does not revolve around you!”

Okay, so this is not a group of people I would want to spend time with. Having said that, the production is well done, though I feel the play have been shorter. A number of points were made and did not have to be repeated.

It is very funny, and all of the players are quite good.

Greg Maraio has terrific talent

Greg Maraio has terrific talent which is why I disliked his character so much. Unless, of course, he was going for sympathy. If that was the case, I missed it. But i don’t think so. I believe Mr. Maraio captured the frustration and anger that too many young people feel when they realize life is a bumpy ride.

It’s funny, but the SpeakEasy Stage has a way of leaving me thinking about their productions for days after I have seen them. Leaving the theater I felt I really did not like this play. But, I think i could spend hours talking about it.

Significant Other
Directed by Paul Daigneault
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
527 Tremont Street In The South End
speakeasystage.com
617.933.8600

It’s A Lovely Sunday At The Huntington

Sunday In The Park With George
At The Huntington Theatre Company

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Company of Sunday in the Park with George (Photo: Paul Marotta)
Company of Sunday in the Park with George
(Photo: Paul Marotta)

This past Saturday I saw the matinee performance of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Sunday In The Park With George, Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical inspired by the George Seurat painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte now playing at the BU Theatre. It was my first time seeing it and I had done some research before going. Reading background pieces about the play made it sound like it was going to be a complicated work and, perhaps, a bit difficult to understand, particularly the second act.

The Huntington has given Boston theatre goers a treat that is not to be missed.

This Sunday In The Park With George is a gift that is not to be missed.
It is complicated, but it certainly is not a difficult play to enjoy. Yes, it has many layers, and I can certainly see why so many people return to see productions of it over and over again. It is one of those works that can be viewed just on the surface or you can dig deeper and deeper and find much more you may not have known was there at first glance. And that is what makes it so wonderful.

I have come a bit late to Sondheim in my theatre going life, this being only the third work of his I have seen performed on stage, the second having just been last week when I saw the Lyric Stage production of Company. I am now hooked.

Adam Chanler-Berat and Jenni Barber (Photo: Paul Marotta)
Adam Chanler-Berat and Jenni Barber
(Photo: Paul Marotta)

As I settled into my seat just in time for the opening act I was already taken with the set. When Jenni Barber appeared as Dot modeling for the artist George, and sang the title song, I knew this was going to be something special. Jenni Barber has talent, not just talent, but that rare ability to convey so much with a nod, a glance, and a pause at just the right time. Add to this her lovely voice, and, well, you have to see her.

This is not, however a one person show. Adam Charnier-Berat as George is in command of his role as the artist obsessed with his work. He moves about the stage with his sketch book sneaking looks at the people in the park for his painting which they will appear in. The use of the stage as a canvas for his work is pleasing to the eye with scenic design by Derek McLane.

Josh Breckenridge, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Aimee Doherty (Photo: Paul Marotta)
Josh Breckenridge, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Aimee Doherty
(Photo: Paul Marotta)

The entire cast is very strong. I was particularly impressed with Aimee Doherty as Yvonne who underplayed her role just right. Josh Breckenridge as Jules and Bobbie Steinbach as Old Lady are a joy to watch.

The musical score by Sondheim is not one that has you leaving the theater humming the tunes. Rather, it is an integral part of the story. Sondheim writes the music in a way that complements Seurat’s pointillist style of having the eye connect the dots in a painting. The music does the same thing only for the ear. It is subtle but effective. It is played by an eleven piece orchestra conducted by Eric Stern.

As for that troublesome second act where the action moves from 1884 to 1984. I saw no problem at all with it. Under the direction of Peter DuBois it was very clear what Mr. Sondheim meant.

Sunday In The Park With George at the BU Theater is an experience theatre goers will not soon forget.

A delectable treat for the eyes and ears. This production connects the dots.

It is a delectable treat for the eyes and ears. This production connects the dots and is not to be missed. You will be sorry if you do.

The Huntington Theatre has promised to produce all of Stephen Sondheim’s plays over the next few years. This is wonderful news. If they come anywhere near the current work being performed on their stage we are in for a great ride.

It looks like I have come to Sondheim at just the right time. I encourage you to jump on board as well. Sunday In The Park With George at the BU Theater is not a bad place to start.

At the BU Theater through October 16th
Huntington Theatre Company
BU Theater, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston
617.266.0800
huntingtontheatre.org

Unforgotten, The Paul Pender Story

A Very Important Film That Will Save Lives

by Bobby Franklin

unforgotten-the-story-of-paul-pender_poster_goldposter_com_1-jpg0o_0l_800w_80qA few years ago film director Felice Leeds got in touch with me about a film she was making about Paul Pender. She told me it would be dealing with more than just Paul’s career as a boxer. We exchanged emails and phone calls. Occasionally, I would hear the production was making progress, but I have been approached by other people trying to make boxing films, and they never seem to go anywhere. With this history, I really wasn’t expecting much from Ms Leeds’ project.

Last Sunday I finally got to see the finished product at a screening at the Boston Film Festival. Not only is this documentary one solid production, it is also an extremely important film.

In 2003 former World Middleweight Champion Paul Pender died at the age of 72. For the previous 15 years it had been thought Paul was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. It wasn’t until his brain was examined after his death that it was discovered not to be Alzheimer’s but rather Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by mild repetitive trauma to the head. These sub-concussive blows to the head are most serious when received at a young age. It was found that Paul had a very serious stage of the disorder CTE (stage 4). It became the  index brain for the research that is ongoing Boston University and is the brain all other cases are compared to.

Paul Pender
Paul Pender

Unforgotten, The Paul Pender Story tells us about Paul’s life, his boxing career, his outspokenness about the corruption in the sport, and his battle with recurring hand injuries that often put his quest for the title on hold. There is amazing footage of Paul’s fights, of him training at the New Garden Gym, as well as taped interviews with the champ. Watching the Brookline fireman’s rise to the top culminating in his winning the title from Sugar Ray Robinson is a great story in itself, and boxing fans will be thrilled with just that.

However, there’s much more to this fine movie. We learn that on top of being a great boxer, Pender was also a very intelligent man who attended elocution school and loved to quote Shakespeare. If things had been a bit different for him he very well may have ended up a college professor. He certainly possessed the intellect for it. We also become aware that his very strong brain was also being damaged over his years of playing contact sports.

While CTE was first thought to primarily affect boxers (dementia pugilistica) it has been found to be prevalent among football players as well. It is a progressive disease that can also occur in anyone, not just participants in contact sports, but also in those who have suffered repeated repetitive head trauma in other ways.

Dr. Ann McKee directs the Boston University CTE Center based at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Bedford, MA. In the film she points out how the younger a person is when they suffer a head injury the more susceptible they become to developing CTE later in life. It is very possible Paul Pender already had damage from his days of playing high school football

It is very possible Paul Pender already had damage from his days of playing high school football

in Brookline. If that damage already existed it would have been exacerbated by his career as a boxer. This is something that should give every parent pause when they are considering allowing their son or daughter to play a contact sport. Once damaged, the brain does not heal.

Tony DeMarco and Felice Leeds
Tony DeMarco and Felice Leeds

In a panel discussion after the film Dr. Robert Cantu, author of Concussions And Our Kids, talked about someday having tests that will show whether or not signs of CTE are beginning to show in the brain. Right now the only way to know for certain is to examine a brain after the patient has died. Could finding markers early on help prevent the onset of symptoms later in life? That is a question that can’t be answered, but at least the person, such as a boxer, could be denied a license to fight so that the damage is not made worse. He also points out that research needs to be done on the brains of people who have participated in contact sports but are asymptomatic. It has always been a puzzlement as to why some athletes, in spite of having received repeated blows to the head, never develop CTE. There is so much more to be learned about this terrible but preventable disease.

This movie is great on so many levels. It finally gives Paul Pender the respect and recognition he deserves for his great boxing ability. He has been known as the forgettable boxer, but

after watching this film you will never forget Paul Pender

after watching this film you will never forget Paul Pender.

Audiences are also brought back to the days when boxing was one of the most popular sports in the country. The time when great fighters like Tony DeMarco made Bostonians proud. Tony, along with fellow boxers Joe DeNucci, Tom McNeeley, and Matt Farago are interviewed. Former great amateur boxer Richard Torsney, a longtime friend of Pender’s, gives us insight into the personal side of the Champ. Historian Dan Cuoco and author Mike Silver (Stars In The Ring and The Arc of Boxing) not only share their insights about the finer points of the art of boxing, but also discuss the emotional side of  what it means to be a boxer. Mr. Silver describes it as a “Calling”.

Rose Pender
Rose Pender

Director Felice Leeds reminds us of a person who should definitely not be forgotten, and that is Rose Pender, Paul’s widow. Ms Leeds describes her as the true hero in this story, and I couldn’t agree more. It is Rose who got this all started by making the difficult decision to allow Paul’s brain to be used for research. This courageous woman who spent years caring for her husband while raising a family now has allowed the rest of us to benefit from the research that is based on her husband’s brain. Her action will save lives and prevent much suffering. We all owe Mrs. Pender much gratitude.

Felice Leeds has made a fine documentary. As I wrote earlier, it is an important piece of work and deserves a wide audience. It is time we as a society look at what is happening on the playing fields and in the boxing rings. It is time we consider the danger we are putting our fellow human beings into for the purposes of entertainment. It is time we work to make sports safer while still retaining the competitiveness that builds character and self-discipline.

Richard Johnson, the curator of the Sports Museum in Boston, best described this film during the panel discussion. I believe he was quoting Paul Pender when he said “It is a full day if you have laughed and cried.” This documentary will make you do both.

Many thanks to Felice Leeds for making this film. I urge everyone to see it when they have the chance. It will make you laugh and cry. And I hope it will make you think about the price so many athletes pay for entertaining us.

Trailer: Unforgotten, The Story of Paul Pender from Felice Leeds on Vimeo.

Ali’s Last Fight

Drama in the Bahamas: Ali’s Last Fight

by Dave Hannigan
Sports Publishing, 2016

reviewed by David Curcio

51bn64anucl-_sx329_bo1204203200_In Drama in the Bahamas: Ali’s Last Fight, Dave Hannigan eschews the usual narratives that dominate the literature on Ali, generally comprised of sycophantic biography, vilifying exposé, or exhaustive, blow-by-blow accounts of Ali’s most famous bouts. Instead, he turns his attention to the swift, ignominious (and unnecessary) decline of this once-towering figure while subtly laying down the gauntlet (especially to fans of the current boxing scene) in the shape of an indictment of the sport in general. Since its inception over a century ago, boxing has been under various forms of scrutiny, with state commissions banning, reinstating, and amending its legality (more often due to financial and legal concerns than for the protection of the fighters). But the

brain trauma caused by the sport can no longer be ignored

brain trauma caused by the sport can no longer be ignored Muhammad Ali has come to exemplify the traumatic brain injury brought on by a game in which the goal is to render one’s opponent unconscious, or at least knock him down with enough force that he is unable to stand up. Despite Ali’s remarkable ability to absorb blows, the repeated, brain-addling blows to the head he received over the course of his twenty year career and sixty one fights number in the tens of thousands.

The book starts out with Ali’s loss in 1980 to Larry Holmes. At 38, he had grown soft, and was already showing signs of Parkinson’s Syndrome (different from Parkinson’s Disease but still diminishing to motor-function) and what is broadly classified as Dementia Pugilistica. He frequently slurred his speech, his movements were slower – this lean machine who averaged around 215 pounds in his prime was into the mid 230s. The fight was a devastating spectacle. Ali moved as if in slow motion, his punches lacking all their previous power. The speed and reflexes that, more than anything, had made him a great fighter had vanished. In the words of Mark Kram, Ali had fallen to “embodying the remains of a will never before seen in the ring, a will that had carried himself so far – and now surely too far.” Ali lost by a TKO when his trainer, Angelo Dundee, refused to let his fighter answer the bell for the eleventh round.

Even the World Boxing Commission wanted him to stop fighting, going so far as attempting to revoke his fighting license in Nevada and New York. Even England refused to sanction another Ali fight as the British Boxing Board did not want one of its fighters to face the washed up ex-champ. But Ali wanted a rematch. “I’m a long way from a shambling wreck,” he told the BBC before delivering a poem in the form of a challenge to Holmes that we will never hear as it was so slurred that the BBC opted not to air it.

The book drives the message home, in no uncertain terms, how badly the public were ready for an Ali retirement – sportscasters, writers, friends, even his wife pleaded with him both publicly and privately to call it quits. For fear of being party to what would surely be the his final downfall, no promoter wanted any part of the spent fighter. Then a Muslim by the name of James X Cornelius stepped in. His resume was not impressive: complete unfamiliarity with the fight game and deep in debt to boot with the reputation of an untrustworthy charlatan with an FBI warrant out for his arrest. But he was certain he could make the fight happen in the newly sovereign islands of the Bahamas.

aliberbick94xu7The fighter chosen as Ali’s opponent was Trevor Berbick, a Jamaican who came to America by way of U.S. employment on the military base at Guantanamo Bay. Details of his childhood, including his year of birth, are murky. We do know he was a deeply religious man who claimed to have had “visions” by the age of sixteen, preferring to return to his room after fights to settle in with his bible than to celebrate with the usual misbehaving. He learned to box in Cuba and had his first professional fight in 1976, The manager Doc Kerr could see through his powder puff punching and poor form and groomed him through the ranks to become the Canadian heavyweight champion. Upon his victory against John Tate as an undercard for the first Leonard-Duran match in 1980, he took a page from Ali’s book upon his victory, parading around the ring and demanding a shot at Holmes (who beat him in a unanimous decision a year and a half later). Still, Berbick had garnered enough credibility that Cornelius was able to orchestrate a fight with Ali in Nassau, Bahamas set for December 11, 1981, exactly eight months after Berbick’s defeat by Holmes, and fifteen months after Ali’s.

In comparing the two fighters, it should come as no surprise that Hannigan instills little menace in either.

If Berbick was more or less a lucky tomato can, Ali wasn’t much better at this point.

If Berbick was more or less a lucky tomato can, Ali wasn’t much better at this point. early as 1970 his long-time doctor Ferdie Pacheco was injecting Ali’s hands with cortisone and Xylacene before fights to dull the pain, and by 1977, could not condone sending the fighter back into the ring. After Ali’s fight with Earnie Shavers, Pacheco said of the bout “He won the fight, but his kidneys lost the decision.” When Ali asked him a year later why he said he was “all washed up,” Pacheco replied “I don’t. What I do say is you should not be fighting,” adding portentously to the promoter Bob Arum, “In two or three years we’ll see what the Holmes fight did to his brain and kidneys. That’s when all the scar tissue in the brain will further erode his speech and balance.” X-rays discovered two years after the fact revealed other symptoms, including an enlarged third ventricle. Ali found a new doctor named Harry Demopoulis who would provide him with a glowing bill of health.

The setting of the Bahamas did not seem to motivate either fighter. Neither were particularly diligent about training: Ali was down to a third of his usual roadwork and sparring, instead enjoying the lax atmosphere of his camp while the notoriously undisciplined Berbick was referred to more than once by the press as a bum and a tomato can. Despite the idyllic island setting, promotion became a nightmare when Cornelius was unable to come up with the cash for Ali’s advance of a mere $100,000. It was time for Don King to step in, who departed for the Bahamas post haste.

The frustration and hesitant support from Ali’s corner can be positively painful to read about. Angelo Dundee, out of fealty or nostalgia (who can say?) believed that, while his legwork was gone and Ali was “only half of what he used to be… half is good enough to beat Berbick.” He added that money held no interest to the fighter. This was his way of erasing the terrible specter of the Holmes fight that continued to haunt him. Dubbed by Bert Sugar as “The Trauma in the Bahamas,” the fight was fast approaching, and Ali began using Thomas Hearns (one of the undercards) as a sparring partner. Hearns spoke with guarded confidence of Ali’s abilities, though other attendees of the sessions were less generous. A wag from NBC quipped, “He floated like an anchor and stung like a moth”; a reporter from the Montreal Gazette described his coverage as a “death watch”; Ray Arcel called it “a damn shame”, promoter Dan Duva referred to it as “a disgrace”; and even Don King said “As a fan and a friend, I’d rather he didn’t [fight].” The two fighters, however, saw it as a win-win prospect. Berbick believed that, win or lose, the fight would elevate his status and credibly with the boxing world. Ali, meandering in non-sequiturs during press conferences, generally concluded with a declaration that the fight was a means of paying homage to Allah.

Cornelius found help from a wealthy American backer with deep ties to the Bahamas through a proposed casino and a lucrative money-laundering scheme named Victor Sayyah to put up the $450,000 he believed was sufficient to move forward without King’s intervention. But as fight day arrived, Berbick was still owed his money, as were judges who flew to the Bahamas on their own dime. The fighters, including the undercards, expressed outrage over the organizers’ failure to attend to the most basic aspects of preparation. They’d neglected to provide new gloves for the fighters and, having forgotten to acquire a bell, stole one off a nearby cow.

tumblr_mxo2wlexcg1rnxl9do1_1280The fight was both a disaster and dull at the same time. Berbick was almost twenty pounds lighter than Ali, who was unable to shed the weight he had planned and was a puffy 236. Slow and plodding, perhaps the fight’s most memorable moment was Berbick’s begging the referee to stop the fight in the middle of the seventh, so much punishment was he inflicting on the former champ. Ali lost by unanimous decision. When asked at a press conference if he believed his skills may have gone, he responded “They have gone. Not may have gone. They have gone.”
This was an admission of the diminishing skills all fighters experience, not an acknowledgenmnt of anything else being wrong. When Berbick was chewed up and spit out by a young Mike Tyson in 1996, he too had already begun showing signs of brain damage. He’d become erratic, fabricating bizarre and highly improbably excuses for his losses and contriving outlandish conspiracies against him. Turning to crime, including sexual battery, housebreaking, and larceny, he was summarily deported back to Jamaica where soon he was again back on the lam.

The story reads like a coda – which in a sense it is – not only to a great career and captivating personality, but to a time that served as a kind of wake-up call to the public. Like the recent Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith, Hannigan’s book is exhaustive in its research, providing a narrative of a later chapter in the life of this twentieth century icon. Unfortunately, with Ali’s passing last June, it will be a hard sell to the casual fan who wants action, trash talk, and courageous stories of standing up to the system and who will probably grab more fawning reads such as David Remnick’s biography, Life Magazine tributes, or Joyce Carol Oates essays instead of facing the hard truths about how their favorite athlete arrived at the state in which he lived out his remaining thirty two years. But to anyone truly interested in the darker chapters of Ali’s life and the dangerous nature of his chosen field, it is essential reading.

Million Dollar Quartet Returns To Ogunquit Playhouse

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis Back by Popular Demand 
in the High-Voltage Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical Million Dollar Quartet 
at the Ogunquit Playhouse through November 6th!

2015_MDQ_Robert-Britton-Lyons-Carl-Perkins-Sam-Weber-bass-David-Sonneborn-drums-Nat-Zegree-Jerry-Lee-Lewis-Jacob-Rowley-Elvis-Presley-Scott-Moreau-Johnny-Cash_photo-by-Jay-Goldsmith_pressThe Ogunquit Playhouse is bringing back the most popular show in its history, the Tony Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet, on stage October 5 through November 6. This high voltage rock ‘n roll show, with book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, is inspired by the electrifying true story of the famed recording session that brought together music icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for one of the greatest jam sessions of all time. Featuring timeless hits such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Fever,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog” and more, this thrilling musical brings audiences inside the recording studio with four major talents who came together as a red-hot rock ‘n’ roll band for one unforgettable night.
This exciting show features an incredible score of rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, R&B and country hits, performed live onstage by world-class actors who play their own instruments, as well as sing and perform. Returning as the energetic Jerry Lee Lewis is Nat Zegree, who had audiences jumping to their feet with excitement in the 2015 production. Over the last year he has performed at Arena Stage Company in the brand new Pasek and Paul musical Dear Evan Hansen and recently performed multiple sold out concerts at 54 Below, The Laurie Beechman, and Don’t Tell Mama’s in New York City. Scott Moreau is also returning to the Ogunquit stage to once again play Johnny Cash. He recently performed the role in Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah’s Casino in Las Vegas and in the first National Tour. Mr. Moreau has also performed in National Tour of A Christmas Carol as well as many regional theatres throughout the U.S. in such shows as Ring Of Fire, Johnny Guitar, Mary Poppins, Oliver!, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Ragtime. He has also appeared as Young Jim Neary in the series finale of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Making his debut at the Ogunquit Playhouse as Carl Perkins is James Barry. Mr. Barry has performed on Broadway in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as well as the National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet. His many New York and regional theatre credits include Pump Boys & Dinettes, These Paper Bullets and The Buddy Holly Story. Joining the cast as Elvis Presley is Beau Cassidy who is also making his Ogunquit Playhouse debut. He is the third member of his family to perform at the historic theatre; his uncle Shaun Cassidy appeared on stage in 1982 and his grandfather Jack Cassidy in 1973. His regional theatre credits include A Hatful of Rain, Proof and The Wedding Singer, and he has appeared on television’s The Voice. He was most recently seen as Mickey Johnston at Feinstein’s/54 Below’s concert of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. Mr. Cassidy is also an accomplished songwriter, penning multiple charted pop songs.

The role of Sam Phillips is played by Jason Loughlin who is also returning after playing the role in the 2015 production at Ogunquit Playhouse. Mr. Loughlin was most recently in The Audience with Helen Mirren on Broadway. His other recent credits include the Broadway production of Machinal directed by Lyndsey Turner and the National Tour of War Horse as Major Nichols. Bligh Voth also returns from the 2015 production to play Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne in the production after spending last year playing Dyanne regionally and internationally. She has performed in regional theatres throughout the U. S., including Signature Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, Lyric Theatre and Boston Conservatory.

www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box Office at 207-646-5511.

Warrior Class At The Lyric Stage Boston

Kenneth Linn’s New Play Opens October 21 And Runs Through November 13

warrior-classPlaywright Kenneth Lin (TV’s House of Cards) delivers “an absorbing, incisive new play that crackles with authenticity” (NY Times), just in time for the climax of a surprising election season. Michael Tow (Chinglish) plays a New York assemblyman who’s been dubbed “The Republican Obama.” The son of Chinese immigrants and a decorated war veteran, he looks forward to a seemingly limitless political career. When someone from his past threatens to reveal a college transgression, he must decide how far he’ll go to keep the incident out of the public eye. Whatever his decision, the consequences may be costly.

lyric_weblogoFor more information: lyricstage.com  Box Office: 617-585-5678

 

 

Figuring Out Sonny

Figuring Out Sonny

After 46 Years Liston’s Death Is Still A Mystery

The Murder Of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin, And Heavyweights Blue

by Shaun Assael, Rider Press

reviewed by Bobby Franklin 

sonny-assaelIt has now been almost 46 years since Sonny Liston was found dead in his Las Vegas home by his wife Geraldine. His death was officially ruled as being from natural causes, though there were traces of heroin in his blood and needle marks on his arm. There were and are many who believe he was murdered, but nobody has been able to come up with any proof. Geraldine Liston died in 2005. Most of the people who knew Sonny, if it was possible to know him at all, have passed on.

 

Much has been written but little is really known about the former heavyweight champion. Nobody knows for sure when Sonny was born, and that includes the late champ himself. Springs Toledo in his fine book The Gods Of War did some excellent research and pegs Liston’s birthdate as July 22, 1930. If not exact, I believe it has to be close. Listening to some people you would believe The Bear was born in the Middle Ages.

 

sonny-liston11-530x317Liston, in his prime, was devastating. While champion Floyd Patterson ducked him, Sonny singlehandedly cleaned out the heavyweight division. When Patterson finally agreed defend the title against him in 1962 Liston walked right through Floyd knocking him out in the first round. He repeated his performance a year later. At this point it appeared Sonny would be champ forever. His association with crime figures kept him from being able to obtain a license to fight in New York. It has been said that after he won the title and was en route back to his home in Philadelphia, he wrote a speech expecting to be greeted by well wishers when he disembarked from the plane. The story goes that he wanted to be a good champion and show the world a different side. When he arrived there was nobody there to greet him. He tore up the speech and accepted his role as the bad guy of boxing.

 

Liston would go on to lose the title when he took on the only heavyweight even more controversial than he was, Cassius Clay. He also lost the rematch. Both fights have been shrouded in mystery and have defined Liston. He would continue to fight but never again was he able to get another chance at the crown.

 

sonny_airport_waving-530x317In a new book (The Murder Of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin, And Heavyweights, Blue Rider Press) to be released in October, author Shaun Assael, a member of ESPN’s investigations unit, takes a look at the life of Sonny Liston. While Mr. Assael touches on the controversial Clay/Ali fights, he focuses primarily on Liston’s final days and his life in Las Vegas. He also delves into finding out the real cause of Sonny’s death.

 

As Liston’s boxing career started to fade, he became more and more involved with the drug scene in Vegas. Liston was always in need of money. He had nothing from his days as champion. For his last fight, defeating Chuck Wepner, Liston received $13,000.00, $10,000.00 of which he used to pay a gambling debt, the rest went for expenses.

 

Mr. Assael gives a great overview of the crime ridden Las Vegas of the late 60s heading into the 1970s. The mob was still active there as Howard Hughes was making inroads in buying up hotels and casinos in an effort to clean things up. It was a murky and sordid world, but one in which Sonny would have felt very comfortable moving through.

 

Sonny and Geraldine
Sonny and Geraldine

If Liston was indeed murdered, what was the motive? The author speaks with the few remaining people who were involved in the Vegas scene back them. Former cops, undercover drug agents, and dealers. He tracks down a good cop gone bad in Larry Gandy whom he interviews. Assael considers Gandy a prime suspect in Liston’s murder, but is sent on another trail after speaking with him.

 

He traces events back to a drug raid where Liston was present but was allowed to walk while everyone else was arrested. Was this a sign that Sonny was an informant? I don’t think there is enough here to back that up. Liston didn’t like cops. He also appears to have been a fairly small time dealer who ended up using. Is it possible others mistakenly believed he was an informant and had him taken out because of that belief? Sure, but again, there is no solid evidence.

 

One part of the book I found to be very enlightening was where the author dug in and found information about a car accident Liston was involved in not long before his death. I had heard about a crash, but I did not know how seriously Sonny was injured. In the head on collision Sonny’s chest was jammed up against the steering wheel. He had shards of glass in his face that had to be removed in the hospital. A week later Liston asked his wife Geraldine to take him to the hospital as he was experiencing discomfort in his chest. I see this as being more of a contributing factor in his death.

 

Liston was somewhere around forty years of age when he died. He had led a hard life. Heavy drinking and drug abuse were showing on his face. I doubt he had the best dietary habits. The injuries from the car accident coupled with his complaints about chest pain make heart disease appear to be a stronger suspect in his death than a mob hit.

 

liston-graveNobody really knew Sonny Liston, and that includes Liston. Mr. Assael’s book adds to the little that is known and is a good contribution to the literature about the champ, but, as much as it may fit into the narrative of Liston’s life, I am not convinced Liston was murdered. He was a man who was old beyond his years. I believe he wore his body down and finally succumbed to heart disease.

 

Mr. Assael makes a strong argument for Liston’s death being murder, but he is unable to tie it all up. The value in this book, and it is very well worth reading, is in tracing Sonny Liston’s final days. In exposing the corruption of Las Vegas back in the day.

 

It is important to know there is much more mystery to Liston’s life than his two fights with Ali. For a man who said very little he was actually a quite complicated individual. Mr. Assael’s book, while trying to answer questions, actually raises many more. Sonny’s life is like a mystery novel with the final page torn out. Will we ever know the truth about him? I doubt it, but with books like this he will remain a fascinating subject.

Million Dollar Quartet Is Rocking Ogunquit

Million Dollar Quartet At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Through November 6th

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Photo Credit: Gary Ng
Photo Credit: Gary Ng

Last year the Ogunquit Playhouse had a huge hit with Million Dollar Quartet, the fictionalized account of the day in December, 1956 when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash all happened to drop into the Sun Records studio and proceeded to participate in a memorable session of music and talk. The show was so popular Playhouse Artistic Director Brad Kenney decided to bring it back to cap off what has been a truly incredible season.

While the meeting between the four legends did indeed take place, and it was the only time they ever performed together, the authors of the play decided that instead of recreating that day song for song, they would give us a look at what went on over a longer period. While doing this they include some very interesting history of the early days of rock and roll, a music many never expected to last more than a short while. We get to know Sun founder Sam Phillips, a man who had an amazing eye for talent, but the inability to hang on to those performers once he got them started. Without Sam Phillips there probably would not have been rock and roll.

While the history lesson is important and well done, Jason Loghlin is outstanding in the role of Phillips, it is the music that electrifies the stage in Ogunquit. This show puts the heat in those Great Balls of Fire that blaze across the stage.

This show puts the heat in those Great Balls of Fire that blaze across the stage.

Nat Zegree is frenetic and a real wild child in the part of Jerry Lee Lewis.He is one damn good piano player as well as an acrobat who uses the keyboard as his personal pummel horse. At times I was looking for the wires that I thought must be attached to him as he was flying through the air so much, but he performed with no strings attached and burned up the stage from beginning to end.

Nat Zegree is a real wild child in the role of Jerry Lee Lewis.

James Barry portrays the legendary Carl Perkins brilliantly. He not only was note perfect on the guitar, but he conveyed a respect for the man who it can be argued was the father of rock and roll. Barry gives us the music and the man. The public should never forget Carl Perkins and his importance in the history of rock and roll. James Barry is seeing that they never will.

James Barry portrays Carl Perkins brilliantly.

While it is unclear whether or not Johnny Cash actually joined in on the original jam session, it is a fact that he was a major player in the early days of Sun Records. With Scott Moreau cast as the young Cash, we see him again with his deep voice and haunting look. Moreau should consider doing a tribute show dedicated just to Johnny Cash. He captures him beautifully.

Oh, there was another musician there that day. His name was Elvis Presley. Elvis had moved on from Sun Records and had hit the big time, but his heart was still in the Memphis studio. Beau Cassidy takes on the young Elvis, and, contrary to what many believe, it is a difficult part to play. How do you capture the amazing talent and charisma of the 1956 Elvis without looking campy and exaggerated? Mr. Cassidy is not an Elvis impersonator. He does not stand on the stage and do a take off on Elvis. Instead, he gives us a look into the heart of the man who, while he has made it big, is still very much at home in the small studio with old friends and a new talent. Cassidy captures Presley with his eyes more than his hips and it works very nicely. Oh, you will not be disappointed in his renditions of the music as he gets it right on every number.

Photo Credit: Julia Russell
Photo Credit: Julia Russell

Mr. Kenney has assembled his own million dollar quartet with the performers he has found for the parts. Each is an accomplished musician who can also act. They play well separately and are rock solid when performing together. They are backed up by Nathan Yates Douglass as Carl’s brother Jay on bass and by David Sonneborn on drums.

Bligh Voth plays Elvis’s girlfriend and she also sings two numbers, the very, very hot Peggy Lee hit Fever and the rocking I Hear You Knocking. Voth almost just about makes this a million dollar quintet.

it is hotter than a summer heatwave at the Playhouse.

The weather may be cooling as the season changes, but it is hotter than a summer heatwave at the Playhouse. I highly recommend Million Dollar Quartet. This show will leave you with a whole lot of shaking going on.

The Original Million Dollar Quartet
The Original Million Dollar Quartet

Million Dollar Quartet now through November 6th.
Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME
ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511

New England Premiere of The Scottsboro Boys

Presented By SpeakEasy Productions

October 21st ThroughNovember 20th

Calderwood Pavillon, Boston 

sb-psdFrom October 21 – November 20, 2016, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the New England Premiere of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, a bold new musical by Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb about a sensational true story that changed American history.

The musical, with a book by David Thompson, and which was originally directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, brings to light the shocking true story of nine African-American teenagers jailed in Alabama in 1931 for a crime they did not commit. With an exhilarating and infectious score that mixes gospel, jazz, and vaudeville, THE SCOTTSOBORO BOYS flips the script on the classic minstrel show to lay bare the fateful case that inspired the American civil rights movement.

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS was the final collaboration for Kander and Ebb

Nominated for 12 Tony Awards, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS was the final collaboration for Kander and Ebb, whose works include such musical theatre classics as Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

SpeakEasy Founder and Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault will direct the New England premiere of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS. Winner of the 2014 Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence, Mr. Daigneault’s SpeakEasy directing credits include productions of Significant Other, Violet, Mothers & Sons, Big Fish, The Color Purple, In the Heights, and Next to Normal.

IRNE Award nominee Matthew Stern will serve as Music Director and Norton Award-winner Ilyse Robbins will choreograph.

The cast for this production includes Darren Bunch, Shalaye Camillo, Taavon Gamble,
Russell Garrett, De’Lon Grant, Brandon G. Green, Sheldon Henry, Wakeem Jones, Steven Martin, Darrell Morris, Jr., Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Aaron Michael Ray, and Isaiah Reynolds.

The design team is Eric Levenson (scenic); Miranda Giurleo (costumes); Daisy Long (lighting), and David Remedios (sound).

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS will run for five weeks, from October 21 through November 20, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.

For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .

Rage Management

Southpaw

reviewed by Len Abram

southpaw-week-movies-slider“The decision is unanimous: Prizefighting is the movies’ favorite sport,” writes critic Mark Feeney. Over 50 boxing films have been produced since 2000, four since 2015. The decline of boxing from its golden era, the troubling questions about the safety of the athletes, and the rise of competing mixed martial arts make the popularity all the more surprising. 

Boxing caught the public imagination in a way that team sports have not. Stars like Tom Brady and LeBron James excel because fellow players provide blocking and ball handling to make their superb achievements possible.

Unlike team sports, the boxer, nearly naked, battles alone.

The public admires the dedication of the solitary boxer to train for the fight and the courage to risk brain and body in pursuit of victory. Unlike team sports, the boxer, nearly naked, battles alone. His trainer, his seconds, perhaps a manager, often experts on cuts and bruises at ring side, and with family and friends cheering, all these count.
At the bell, however, and off the stool, he stands by himself. His skills for offense and defense, plans for victory, and training come down to a kind of moment of truth. Can he win or avoid a humiliating defeat? Can he protect himself from injury? After this contest, will he fight another day?
As metaphors go, in boxing movies there can be another opponent in the ring, the boxer himself. Self-knowledge and self-mastery can turn out to be his most fundamental adversaries, as they are in “Southpaw.”

Redemption is prime thematic territory for the boxing movie.

The movie “Southpaw” (2015) opened to mixed reviews and public endorsement. Costing $30 million to produce, the movie grossed over $90 million. It is directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Kurt Sutter, and stars Jake Gyllenhaal (as Billy Hope) Forest Whitaker (as Tick Wills), Rachel McAdams (as Maureen Hope), and Oona Laurence (as Leila Hope).

Praise came for directing and performances, even for the child actor who plays the fighter’s daughter. The complaints were for the predictability of the boxing movie plot. The “familiarity” of the boxing film genre drives some critics away, says Brian Tallerico, but not viewers looking for “an old fashioned tale of redemption.”

Redemption is prime thematic territory for the boxing movie. The hero suffers the changes of fortune, such as the rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags plots of the films. The Rocky movies played the theme both ways, Rocky on his way up, down, and back up. Very often how the boxer hero handles defeat portrays his true character, the test of resilience.

Writer Kurt Sutter draws on another familiar plot mechanism: the brash self-promotion of a younger opponent wishing for a title shot. The upstart insults the resident champ in public, Billy Hope, demeaning his achievements and embarrassing him in front of his wife. It happens in Rocky III and in “Southpaw” too, with much more tragic results.

Twice in the movie Sutter uses naming to express an idea.

Sutter is well aware that he’s drawing on conventions, for others the clichés, of his genre. A play or a movie expects the audience to play along with the premises of the story and to identify with its hero. Twice in the movie Sutter uses naming to express an idea: his hero will have to exert his will to define himself anew.

The name William or Billy suggests that Billy is a person, who needs to apply his will to shape his fate. His trainer in the story, Tick Wills, another use of the name, teaches Billy that he must first control his own anger.

Billy Hope fights well because he has enough anger, enough rage, to fuel his ferocity in the ring. Billy, however, is not a smart fighter. He gets hit too much. Anger, Wills teaches, tires the fighter quicker and leads to impetuous mistakes. Boxing is intellect over brawn.
Wills quotes the great Benny Leonard: boxing is a chess game. For Hope, it’s a brawl to prove he’s tougher than his opponent. Hence the beating he allows himself to take. His left eye needs protection; he could go blind. So too, Billy has been blind to his behavior, contributing to the mess his life has become.

Wills quotes the great Benny Leonard: boxing is a chess game.

The movie opens with the ritual of the hands, their supervised taping in pristine white gauze and tape, so at odds with how they will be used. When Billy’s wife encourages him before the fight, she begs him to protect himself. By the end of the bout, Billy’s face is splitting blood from cuts like an overripe tomato. He proclaims his victory to the crowd, vaulting high on adrenalin, vaunting like a proud ape. Our sympathies take a while to collect for him.

From foster homes to $10 million a fight is what we learn about Billy. In an mansion outside of New York City, the champion lives with his family, the bonds of affection between Billy, Maureen and Leila their daughter powerfully acted. The reversal, to use Aristotle’s term, takes place at a charity event, where Miguel Escobar, the up-and-coming challenger, insults the champ. This is the moment of truth, as his wife cautions self-control, of which Billy has little. That tragic mistake, which done cannot be undone, is Billy’s, as he will have to admit, under the direction of his mentor, trainer Tick Wills, played by Forest Whitaker. 

From there, Billy goes down for a count of 100. He loses his discipline, abuses drugs and alcohol, contemplates suicide and revenge, even loses his daughter to the state. From a mansion of many rooms to a few hundred square feet dingy apartment. Bleak for sure, but the neighborhood does have a boxing gym run by trainer Tick Wills.

Boxing is not only his way to earn a living and get his daughter back, it’s also his redemption. Wills is the mentor who teaches him the chess board of boxing, in which fighting southpaw will turn out to be a powerful tool. Billy gains self-control and self-knowledge. The judge in child services congratulates Mr. Hope for his turnaround.

In the final bout of the movie, Billy nearly falls back into rage and lose the fight. His mentor Wills and the memory of his beloved wife Maureen, whose name is tattooed on his back, return him to his senses. He is back in charge.

Audiences applaud this boxing movie and the genre in general. In “Southpaw,” Billy Hope and hope triumph over circumstances, given the discipline to train, the humility to learn, and the courage to face the opponent in the ring.

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It

October 15th

Hartford’s Bushnell Theater
Reviewed By Edmond D. Smith

shatner-one-man-show_After being in show business for over 60 years it’s not surprising that a person should have a large store of good stories to tell. But it’s something of a wonder that at 85 he could tell them with the same kind of energy and enthusiasm that a man 30 years younger would have a hard time summoning.

Famed actor, writer, director and cultural phenomenon Williiam Shatner’s one man show, Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It, presented October 15 at Hartford’s Bushnell Theater was funny, moving, interesting, and totally engrossing. At 85 Shatner spent over 2 1/4 hours flawlessly and engagingly delivering the story of his life. He incorporated movie clips, TV clips, music and ended the night with a song. He was unfailingly warm and Real, which just happens to be the title of the song he closed with. He didn’t shy away from some of the controversies that have surrounded him over the years, told of his post-Star Trek poverty and desperation and dropped many famous names without appearing to be a tiresome name dropper.

Shatner was often at his most affective relating stories about his family

Pacing from one side of the stage to the other, he punctuated his stories with his famous staccato delivery and physicality, rarely sitting down on the chair that was his only real prop; at one point lifting said chair above his head to highlight a particularly dramatic moment. But the whole night was not taken up solely with over-the-top gestures. Shatner was often at his most affective relating stories about his family and their varied travails including his father’s death and coming home and finding Nereen, his then wife dead at the bottom of their pool, a victim of the alcoholism she couldn’t beat. At moments like that Shatner displayed a range that most might not realize he possesses.
.
shatners-worldThematically the show touched upon life, love and the inescapability of death. He has been doing the show all around the world since 2012 and has honed it and refined it to the point where it appears to be a man just telling stories but is in fact a very well-crafted entertainment. Even if you have spent the last 60 years in a cave and had no idea who William Shatner was the show would’ve been entertaining and enjoyable. Shatner as we all know is somewhat ubiquitous so you never can tell when he might show up near your town. If he does you’d be doing yourself a favor by going to see him and finding out why this really is Shatner’s World.

-END-

 

A Powerful Lesson

August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson

At The Hartford Stage
Through November 13, 2016

Reviewed By Edmond D. Smith

the-pian-lesson-pic1916 saw the start of what has come to be called The Great Migration, the movement of millions of Southern African Americans to the North in the hopes of finding better lives than the South was affording them. Playwright August Wilson sets his famed ten play The American Century Cycle, of which the Pulitzer Prize winning The Piano Lesson is the fifth, in 1936 Pittsburgh where a large migrant population had taken root. Like all the plays of The American Cycle The Piano Lesson, currently at Hartford’ elegant Stage Theater, addresses aspects of how this dislocation impacted the African American experience.

This is what theater is all about.

The play revolves around the return of Boy Willie Charles, who has spent the last three years in Mississippi, some of the time in jail and all the time scheming how to gather the money to buy farmland in Mississippi that his family had once worked as slaves. He drives back to Pittsburgh with his friend Lymon in a truck that’s on its last legs filled with watermelons that he intends to sell to accumulate funds to help pay for the land. The last part of his plan is to sell a family heirloom, a 137 year old piano engraved with images that relate his family’s history in America currently in his sister Berniece’s possession. He returns to the bosom of a family that is unimpressed with his plans; Berniece being adamant that he will not sell what she sees as the family legacy. The stage is then literally set for a battle of how best to reconcile yesterday and today in a way that makes tomorrow worthwhile.

Christina Acosta Robinson uses her slight, almost frail body to heighten the power of her inner resolve.

The Stage has gathered an exceptional ensemble of actors who through stories and song highlight those things that have held the African American community together in their struggle in America; religion and African spirituality among them. Clifton Duncan fully embodies both the charming and manipulative aspects of Boy Willie. Christina Acosta Robinson uses her slight, almost frail body to heighten the power of her inner resolve. Other standouts are Rosco Orman (who you may remember for playing Gordon Robinson for years on Sesame Street) as Uncle Doaker who brings an appropriate naturalness and reasonability to the role. Cleavant Derricks plays Doaker’s bombastic brother and nearly stops the show with his soulful, thunderous singing voice.

Clifton Duncan and Elise Taylor Photo Credit: T.Charles Erickson
Clifton Duncan and Elise Taylor
Photo Credit: T.Charles Erickson

This terrific cast is able to express themselves to full advantage thanks to Jade King Carrol’s subtle direction which synergistically uses story, acting talent, lighting and stage design to create something greater than its already highly impressive parts. The lives of migrant African Americans in all their humor, love and desperation are sensitively evoked.

In our continuing era of racial strife, The Piano Lesson does us all a service by stripping away stereotypes to reveal the humanity common in us all. August Wilson was (he sadly passed away in 2005) not only a master of the lyricism of words but also of the human condition and brilliantly found the dignity of his characters in their everyday struggles.

With their current production, The Stage Theater burnishes their reputation of presenting important, quality theater to Connecticut. This is what theater is all about.

Hartford Stage
50 Church Street, Hartford, CT 06103
Box Office: 860-527-5151
https://www.hartfordstage.org/piano-lesson

In A Class Of Its Own

“Warrior Class”

Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston  Through November 13

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Michael Tow and Steven Barkhimer
Michael Tow and Steven Barkhimer

In this year when what surely can be called the worst presidential campaign in history is taking place, it would not surprise me if you would take a pass on seeing a play about a politician. I could hardly blame you, but in the case of Kenneth Lin’s Warrior Class now playing at the Lyric Stage Company in Boston you would be making a big mistake.

Yes, Warrior Class is about a politician. It is also about manipulation, extortion, dirty deal making, political fundraising, selling out principles, and much more. That’s right, all the things we hate about politics. It is also about much more than that.

This is a moving and emotional work.

Michael Tow plays Julius Weishan Lee, an idealistic young Chinese American New York State Assemblyman who is looking to move up and run for Congress. He enlists the aid of political operative Nathan Berkshire who is portrayed by Steven Barkhimer who is reminiscent of the real life consultant Bob Beckel. Lee is a sincere young man who wants to run and serve based on his beliefs. Perhaps he is naive, I like to believe otherwise, to think he can make it without selling out, but he wants to take that route. However, a problem arises.

In the course of preparing for the race it is revealed, not publicly, that Lee has a skeleton in his closet in the form of Holly Lillian Eames, played by Jessica Webb. This poses a potentially serious problem for the idealistic Lee who has a wonderful resume that includes serving in Afghanistan and working for Teach For America. He is coming off giving an impressive speech at the Republican Convention and is seen as a rising star on the national scene.

Steven Barkhimer and Michael Tow (Photo Credit: Mark S. HowardHolly and Nathan meet to try to work out a deal to keep things quiet. Yes, Holly, who claims to be a victim is also using the situation to blackmail Lee. It all seems like a pretty basic plot about a politician with something in his past to hide and his willingness to deal to make things go away. Something any of us over the age of two have seen in our lifetimes more often than we like.

The difference with Warrior Class is that it is much more than a sordid political story. Playwright Kenneth Lin digs deep into all of the characters. This is a moving and emotional work. It is like watching a game of chess as all involved maneuver to either gain from, suppress, or both from the incidents that occurred twenty years earlier. It turns out one of them is the chess master. During the play, which becomes quite intense, we are faced with asking ourselves questions. Can people change? Is it okay for a victim to become a perpetrator? Is it permissible for a man to use lies and manipulation in order to help a family member? Could any of us be one of the characters? Where is the line that should not be crossed? It is easy to walk away from this play feeling cynical, but I found much more to take away from this fine play.

Jessica Webb and Michael Tow (Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard
Jessica Webb and Michael Tow (Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard

Actors Michael Tow, Steven Barkhimer, and Jessica Webb are superb in their roles.

There was never a moment when my eyes left the stage

There was never a moment when my eyes left the stage,especially during the scene where Julius and Holly meet to discuss working things out. At that point emotions run very high. It is a pleasure to watch three very talented actors taking to the stage and performing seamlessly. It is performances such as this that remind me of why I am so drawn to the theatre. Dawn M. Simmons fine direction leaves enough ambiguity so when you depart the theater you will be thinking a lot about what you just saw and asking yourself many questions.

In a talkback after the performance, the question was asked if the role of Julius Weishan Lee was written specifically for a Chinese character. The answer was yes it was, but Michael Tow pointed out how different it was from so many roles he has played where he was cast because of his ancestry. He told us, while the script called for a Chinese actor, as the name implies, it could have been played by someone from any background. This freed him from feeling typecast. I agree with Mr. Tow. While the heritage of the leading character was a part of the play, it was not a play about a Chinese politician. Refreshingly, it is a play about a politician who happens to be Chinese.

While we are so focused, or perhaps, with good reason not, on the national political scene, this play will make you think more about local politics; especially, here in Massachusetts where corruption is a part of the culture.

I highly recommend you head down to the Lyric Stage and see this play. You will not be disappointed.

lyricstage.com Box Office:

617-585-5678

Laugh And Learn With The Tiger

 Tiger Style

The Huntington Theatre Company At The Calderwood Pavillon

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

A few years ago the subject of Tiger Moms, a term used to describe the hard driving parenting style of many Asian American parents, became a hot topic of discussion. For many parents this method seemed harsh, but there was also some envy in seeing how much these children were able to accomplish. What wasn’t being discussed was the effect this type of parenting would have on them as they entered adulthood, the workplace, and while interacting with more diverse social groups.

Playwright Mike Lew takes on these issues and many more with great humor and depth in his original new play Tiger Style now presented by the Huntington Theatre Company.

Rubio Qian and Jon Norman Schneider Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson
Rubio Qian and Jon Norman Schneider Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Tiger Style focuses on siblings Albert (Jon Norman Schneider) and Jennifer (Ruibo Qian) who who have both excelled academically and artistically, but are struggling now that they have left the nest. They are living together along with Jennifer’s boyfriend Reggie (Bryan T. Donovan) who is ending the relationship as the play begins. Bryan is disappointed, to put it mildly, that Jennifer isn’t more dominant in bed and more submissive around the home, while Jennifer makes it clear how vastly superior she is to Bryan because of her academic accomplishments.

Mr. Lew has written a very funny and insightful play that is fast paced and filled with witty dialog

Albert is struggling at work; not because he isn’t competent, but because he has terrible people skills. Both brother and sister, while knowing they are highly skilled, are unable to function well when interacting with others. This is a failing they begin to see and decide to blame it, with some justification, on their parents.

Francis Jue, Ruibo Qian, Jon Norman Schneider, and Emily Kuroda. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson
Francis Jue, Ruibo Qian, Jon Norman Schneider, and Emily Kuroda. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

This leads them on a journey that begins with a planned fight with their parents (Francis Jue and Emily Kuroda), then going “full Western” in a futile attempt to distance themselves from their culture resulting in Albert losing his job and Jennifer driving a therapist to the edge of insanity. Going “full Asian” with a move to China where they eventually end up in prison; it seems living under a totalitarian government is much like having a Tiger Mom only you never get your freedom. And finally returning home with many lessons learned and much to still deal with. As mom and dad explain, life is not easy. At some point you have to take responsibility for your own success and failure.

Mr. Lew has written a very funny and insightful play that is fast paced and filled with witty dialog, such as when Albert tries to curry favor with his manager at work who is also Asian by saying “Don’t be a self-hating Asian, be a self-nepotating Asian.” Or when Jennifer tells her therapist “I want to be the best at therapy”.

While the humor continues throughout the play there is also much that is very serious and important to be learned. When mom and dad talk about the sacrifices they and their parents had to make in order to succeed in their adopted country we get a better understanding of why they drive their children to be successful. Dad, in telling the story of the struggles of his parents says “I came from laundry people”. It is a line, coming on top of the narrative of their suffering and success that hits hard. Yes, it is up from the bootstraps talk, but it is also true.

…a finely crafted work we all can learn from.

love plays like Tiger Style for many reasons including the finely written humor, but mostly because the author is able to show us the struggles within a group of Americans that have to deal with their cultural heritage for both its strengths and its minuses as well. Mr. Lew does this without making victims out of his characters and without throwing a guilt trip on his audience, but at the same time not downplaying the racism and hatred that is much too often directed at those who are new to this country. It is a finely crafted work we all can learn from.

Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavillon, South End, Boston
Through November 13
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
huntingontheatre.org
Box Office 617.266.0800

Uncomfortable and Very Good

The Scottsboro Boys

At The Calderwood

SpeakEasy Productions
Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The SpeakEasy Stage’s production is as good a one as you will see.

The Scottsboro Boys was John Kander and Fred Ebb’s final collaboration. Mr. Ebb passed away in 2004 and Mr. Kander finished the play on his own. It debuted in 2010. It is a musical about nine young black men, actually boys (the youngest was only thirteen), who, in 1936, were falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama. It is a tragic and heart wrenching story about a terrible miscarriage of justice and racism.

While the original production received 12 Tony Award nominations, it was greeted with mixed reviews and some protests when it appeared on Broadway.

Wakeem Jones and De'Lon Grant Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
Wakeem Jones and De’Lon Grant
Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

The SpeakEasy Stage’s production is as good a one as you will see. Staging a musical such as this that deals with a true story that is sure to make an audience very uncomfortable has to be difficult; however, everything about Paul Daigneault’s direction is excellent. The sets, the music, the lighting. And that is just what can make this awkward for the audience. A lively musical with many one liners that stings.

Kander and Ebb set this as a minstrel show with some of the roles reversed. You will see such mainstay minstrel characters as Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones, only in this case they are black men playing grotesque and exaggerated depictions of white characters. Makes you see things from a bit different perspective to say the least.

At no time during the play do you lose sight of the tragic injustice that is taking place.

Yes, this is a musical, and a lively one too with many great tunes and lively dance numbers. This can also lead to much discomfit. I asked some of the cast members after the show if different audiences react in different ways (at the performance I attended most applauded after each number, though I felt it inappropriate to do so.). They told me that some remain silent until the end and applaud when the play is over. At other times they can feel a hesitation before getting a response. This all makes sense in a show such as this where the music is very good and the performers excellent. However, you don’t exactly want to walk out of the theatre humming Electric Chair or Minstrel March. At no time during the play do you lose sight of the tragic injustice that is taking place, and that took place not very far in our past. The solid cast never allows that to happen. All the players are deeply vested in their characters and it shows.

Darrell Morris Jr. and Isaiah Reynolds (Photo Credit:Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)
Darrell Morris Jr. and Isaiah Reynolds (Photo Credit:Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)

Don’t let any of this dissuade you from seeing this fine cast perform on the stage of the Calderwood Pavillon. As usual, the SpeakEasy has assembled a very talented cast that does not disappoint. This is a rare opportunity to see Kander and Ebb’s final work, and we are lucky to have the SpeakEasy that does not shy away from such productions.

Due to popular demand, performances have been extended through November 26.

speakeasystage.com
617.933.8600 At The Calderwood Pavillon, 527 Tremont Street, Boston’s South End

NEW REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

directed by Austin Pendleton

Charles Mosesian Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts

Watertown, MA

DECEMBER 2-24, 2016

1617_websliders_03-fiddlerNew Repertory Theatre presents Fiddler on the Roof, December 2-24, 2016 in the Charles Mosesian Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA.

“Fiddler on the Roof has a much deserved place in the history of musical theatre,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “It was first produced at a time when ideas of tradition and cultural identity were in an upheaval. It became a response to the transition that was happening in American culture and continues to resonate today as it examines the traditions of life, communities, and family.”

“We’re thrilled to welcome back to our stage so many New Rep favorites in our much- anticipated production of Fiddler on the Roof,” says Managing Director Harriet Sheets. “We’d also like to welcome back Austin Pendleton. While this is his first time directing for us, he is no stranger to our stage having appeared in Quills, Waiting for Godot, and King Lear. His play, Orson’s Shadow, also received its Boston-area premiere during our 2006-2007 season to resounding critical praise, and in 2015 we were honored to present him with New Rep’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement at our annual Gala.”

Jeremiah Kissel
Jeremiah Kissel

A spirited revival of the beloved musical, Fiddler on the Roof features Jeremiah Kissel (Broken Glass, The King of Second Avenue, Imagining Madoff) as Tevye, leading a cast of Boston-area favorites in this Tony Award-winning play. Rendered with striking intimacy and simplicity by Tony-nominated director Austin Pendleton, who originated the role of Motel the Tailor on Broadway, this energetic production puts the classic story’s fierce heart at the center of the audience experience with its timeless warmth, humor, and honesty.

Telephone: 617-923-8487, Online: newrep.org

Theatre to Die For

Murder For Two

At The Lyric Stage, Boston

Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard
Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard

Two actors playing thirteen characters while singing, dancing, and playing the piano. Sounds a bit complicated. That’s what I thought as Murder For Two began Sunday afternoon. How would I ever be able to keep track of all that was going on? Well, when the two actors are Jared Troilo and Kirsten Salpini it is not a problem. Add in the fine direction of A. Nora Long and a very funny and fast moving script and music by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, and you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy a great time at the theater.

The story is set at the home of the great American novelist Arthur Whitney where his wife has arranged a surprise birthday party for him.

A little song, a little dance, a little murder, what could be more enjoyable?

Unfortunately for poor Arthur, he runs into a bullet before he is able to open his presents. This is where police officer Marcus Moscowitz (Jared Troilo) comes on the scene. Moscowitz is mistaken for a detective, a confusion he does nothing to dissuade the suspects from believing. Marcus sees cracking this case as his ticket to a promotion, as long as he can do it before his superior officer gets there. He is going to go strictly by Protocol, which also happens to be the name of his first musical number.

Ms Salpini is funny, creative, and a joy to watch.

He begins interviewing the suspects, all of whom are played by Kirsten Salpini. She also plays the members of a boy’s chorus who have been hired to provide entertainment for the party. They are a mischievous lot and very funny. Ms Salpini switches roles from moment to moment without the aid of costume changes. She manages this, and very well I might add, by changing her voice and accent along with some very creative body language. I have seen some impressive performances where one actor plays multiple roles solely by changing voice and movement, most notably Chaz Palminteri in A Bronx Tale and John Douglas Thompson in Satchmo At The Waldorf , and while Kirsten Salpini does not rise to their level, she is certainly a contender and does a fine job in her many roles. Ms Salpini is funny, creative, and a joy to watch. Her singing is the icing on the cake.

Jared Troilo as pseudo Detective Moscowitz is right at home in his role as the nervous cop trying to solve the big crime. His singing and dancing is a reminder of how much fun theatre can be, even if it’s about a murder. While the part was not written for him he performs it like it was.

Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard
Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard

Finding two actors who can sing, dance, and also play the piano had to be a challenge for director Long. Finding two with these talents who could also work so well together had to be almost impossible, but with Jared and Kirsten she found a theatre match made in Heaven.

I will not spoil the fun by letting on more about the details of the play, only to say that there was also another crime committed during the party, and those of you with a sweet tooth may consider that one the more serious.

Murder For Two is a great way to take some time out during this busy time of the year to enjoy a very funny and fun play. A little song, a little dance, a little murder, what could be more enjoyable?

Murder For Two Through December 24th

The Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston

(617) 585-5678 http://www.lyricstage.com

 

 

 

 

SPEAKEASY STAGE TO BRING BACK “THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS” DEC. 30 – JAN. 22

Wakeem Jones and De'Lon Grant Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
Wakeem Jones and De’Lon Grant
Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Due to unprecedented demand, SpeakEasy Stage will remount its acclaimed production of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS for four additional weeks, December 30, 2016 – January 22, 2017.The entire original cast will return to the production, which has been hailed as “a powerful and vivid reminder of racial injustice both past and present.” Tickets for the added performances are now on sale.

“I am thrilled to have another opportunity to share THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS with Boston audiences,” said SpeakEasy Founder and Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault. “Rarely have I been more proud of a production, and rarely has a show seemed as timely and important as this one.”

Featuring music and lyrics by Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb, and a book by David Thompson, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS brings to light the shocking true story of nine African American teenagers jailed in Alabama in 1931 for a crime they did not commit. With an exhilarating and infectious score that mixes gospel, jazz, and vaudeville, the show flips the script on the classic minstrel construct to lay bare the fateful case that inspired the American civil rights movement. Nominated for 12 Tony Awards during it initial Broadway engagement, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS is also notable as the final collaboration between Kander and Ebb, whose works include such musical theatre classics as Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

The entire original cast will be back for these additional performances. They are:   Darren Bunch,Shalaye Camillo, Taavon Gamble, Russell Garrett, De’Lon Grant, Brandon G. Green,Sheldon Henry, Wakeem Jones, Steven Martin, Darrell Morris, Jr., Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Aaron Michael Ray, and Isaiah Reynolds.Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.

The second installment of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS will run for four weeks, December 30, 2016 through January 22, 2017, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com 

Ezzard Charles, A Gentle Terror

Ezzard Charles; A Boxing Life
By William Dettloff
Published by McFarland, 232 pages $35.00
www.mcfarlandpub.com

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

imagesEzzard Charles was not someone you would look at think of as vicious fighting machine. He looked more like a member of Duke Ellington’s jazz band. He was also very mild mannered with a gentle air about him. As a kid in Lawrenceville, Georgia and later in Cincinnati, Ohio he was friendly but quiet. He did always love boxing and dreamed of one day becoming a world champion.

In 1949, after an amateur career and almost ten years of fighting pro he attained his dream by beating Jersey Joe Walcott for the title Joe Louis had vacated. Unfortunately for Charles he had two things against him. He was stepping into the shadow of the beloved Louis, and he did not possess the exciting and dramatic style of the Brown Bomber. The public just did not take to him. It’s not like Charles hadn’t earned respect. He had fought and beat a number of the Black Murder’s Row fighters. He had two wins over the very great Charley Burley as well as a decision win and a knockout over Archie Moore.

It has often been said that Charles is the most underrated of all heavyweight champions.

While Charles may have looked more like a piano teacher out of the ring, when the bell rang he was a brutal competitor. As I was reading William Dettloff’s excellent biography of Charles I couldn’t help thinking that Ezzard had to have a lot of anger in him that he could only express in the prize ring. He could also be erratic in his performances, sometimes not looking motivated enough to win convincingly. Charles would be a ripe candidate for for some psychoanalysis, and in fact, before his rematch with Rocky Marciano the press, in an effort to drum up interest in the fight had a psychiatrist visit the camps of both fighters. The doctor described Charles as “A dreamer type…who loses the spontaneity in his dreams” because of his many “inhibitions”. Interesting insight even if it was just hype to sell tickets.

Mr. Dettloff has done exhaustive research on the life and fighting career of Ezzard Charles. He takes us to the tragic night in 1948 when Charles fought Sam Baroudi. Baroudi would be carried from the ring and die the next day. Ezzard was devastated by this tragedy, but just three months later would step back into that very same ring and knock out the very formidable Elmer “Violent” Ray. In fact, he would fight four more times in 1948 including a win over Jimmy Bivins.

Louis vs Charles
Louis vs Charles

Charles would continue winning and fighting often, finally landing a fight with Jersey Joe Walcott for the vacant heavyweight crown. Beating Walcott may have made him champion, but he still had to live in the shadow of Joe Louis. He defended the title numerous times and even went on to defeat his idol Louis in a brutal fifteen round affair that should have removed all doubt to his legitimacy as champion. It did not. The problem was, as Dettloff points out, Ezzard Charles was not Joe Louis.

This lack of public support may have had something to do with his not always being to motivate himself. Another reason was his fighting so often and against such tough competition. Ezzard rarely got an easy opponent. In fact, in reading this biography we are treated to a history of the light heavyweight and heavyweight divsions in the 1940s and 50s. Mr. Dettloff gives brief but very interesting biographies of many of Charles’s opponents; Archie Moore, Walcott, Bivins, Harold Johnson, Bob Satterfield, and many others. This all makes for a very interesting book.

Dettloff also introduces us to many of the characters who occupied the world of boxing during that era. One of the most quotable was Charles’s manager (he had many) Jake Mintz. Mintz could twist the English language in amazing ways. For example, when recounting surgery he had to repair a hernia he said “They thought I had some golf stones there so they took an autograph of my heart and said, ‘One of your ulsters is worn out’. William Shakespeare would be envious.

There are also other interesting facts related here. It turns out a young Charles while serving in the military fought a three round exhibition with Joe Louis. Also, while training for his bout against Bob Satterfield the Charles people brought in a crude young heavyweight by the name of Sonny Liston to be a sparring partner. Liston was not up to the task at that point in his career.

After Charles lost the title to Walcott, and a rematch with Jersey Joe, it looked like his hopes of ever regaining the title were over. He began campaigning for another shot at the title but lost back to back matches against Nino Valdez and Harold Johnson. Charles was getting tired and old, but he did come back to life with wins over Satterfield and Coley Wallace. It was enough to earn him a shot at the new and exciting young champion Rocky Marciano.

William Dettloff has written a fine biography of a great champion, and one that Ezzard Charles deserves.

Dettloff writes about this fight in detail. He discusses Charles’s training and strategy for the fight, a strategy that at first glance may have sounded foolish but made sense. Ezzard went into the Marciano bout motivated to win but came up short. He did earned the distinction of being the only man to take the Rock the full 15 rounds and came closer than any fighter to taking the title from him, though the decision was clearly in Marciano’s favor.

Charles would get a rematch based on this performance, and even though he severely cut Rocky’s nose, he just did not have anything left. Though he would continue to fight on for another four years it was all downhill from there. He would end up broke, take up professional wrestling, and struggle to make ends meet. His final years were spent suffering from Lou Gehrigs Disease. A very tragic end for such a great fighter.

William Dettloff has written a fine biography of a great champion, and one that Ezzard Charles deserves. Boxing fans should take the time to read this very interesting book and learn about this man who deserves to be remembered. It has often been said that Charles is the most underrated of all heavyweight champions. Mr. Dettloff has down a terrific job in changing that history.

Seaglass Chorale Presents A Celtic Christmas

A Celtic Christmas In Kennebunkport and Sanford, Maine

December 3rd and 4th
celtic-christmas-poster-2016Seaglass Chorale is excited to announce that its 2016 winter concert will be A Celtic Christmas, featuring Regina Delaney on Irish harp and Ryan J. Thomson and his son Brennish on fiddle. The concert will include a celebration of the Winter Solstice, seen as a most significant time of year in Celtic culture.

There will be two performances of this concert, the first as part of Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude on December 3rd and the second at North Parish Church in Sanford the afternoon of December 4th.
Saturday, Dec 3, 7:00 pm
South Congregational Church, 2 North Street, Kennebunkport, Maine
Sunday, Dec 4, 2:30 pm
North Parish Congregational Church, 895 Main Street, Sanford, Maine

Artistic Director Jean Strazdes
Artistic Director Jean Strazdes

Founded in 1993 by Artistic Director Jean Strazdes, the Seaglass Chorale is a non-auditioned adult choral group of 50-60 voices that has established itself as a voice to be heard! The chorale represents some 20 southern Maine communities and regularly performs throughout the area, with concerts in Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells, Sanford, Saco, and other regional venues. We are well supported by our longtime accompanist, Kimberly Karchenes.
Internationally acclaimed, Seaglass Chorale has traveled to Europe twice, performing in Rome, Venice, Innsbruck, and Budapest.

 

In September of 2004, choristers proudly led the musical prelude at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. In March of 2016 the works of Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo were performed in Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine while Maine coastal photographs by renowned photographer Peter Ralson of Rockport, Maine were shown. Some members of the chorale sang in the Hunchback of Notre Dame chorale this past summer at the Ogunquit Playhouse. During summer of 2017 the chorale has been invited to perform in Ireland as part of a prestigious music festival.

 

This Celtic Christmas concert features Celtic music including Gaelic sung by the chorale as well as Celtic Harp, Celtic fiddlers, flute, piano & other instruments. There will be an audience sing a long of more traditional holiday carols toward the end of the concert.

 

Ticket Information
Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $12 for children and seniors.
Reserve your tickets by contacting us at 207-985-8747 or seaglass [at] gwi [dot] net.
Tickets can also be purchased at Morse Hardware in Wells or through a Chorale member.

Raise A Glass And Sip A Drop Of Schnapps To This Fiddler

Fiddler On The Roof

New Rep Theatre Watertown

Through January 1

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Jeremiah Kissel as Tevye
Jeremiah Kissel as Tevye

The current run of Fiddler On The Roof at the New Rep Theatre was extended even before it opened. Audiences had high expectations for this production which is being directed by Austin Pendleton. So, did Mr. Pendleton and company meet expectations? The answer is a resounding yes. They met and exceeded them.

This version is a joy to see in the intimate setting of the New Rep Theater. From the opening number, Tradition, it is abundantly clear Jeremiah Kissel is more than up for the role of Tevye. While Mr. Kissel may not have the vocal range for all of the numbers, he does have something more important; Kissel’s voice is warm and full of the decency and kindness that is embodied in Tevye.

Kissel’s voice is warm and full of the decency and kindness that is embodied in Tevye.

Watching and listening to him as he sees life around him changing more rapidly than he can keep up with, and as he struggles with his adherence to traditions while also wanting the best for his daughters brings smiles and tears to the eye. Teyve is a man struggling with many things but who remains optimistic and humorous. His ongoing conversations with God reflect this. Jeremiah Kissel captures all of this.

Make no mistake, this is not a one man show. Director Pendleton has assembled a large and very strong cast for this production. Amelia Broome as Tevye’s wife Golde is perfect opposite Mr. Kissel. Listening to them sing together in Sunrise, Sunset and Do You Love Me? is a joy. Their voices convey a warmth and love that will melt the coldest of hearts.

Abby Goldfarb, Sarah Oakes, Victoria Britt
Abby Goldfarb, Sarah Oakes, Victoria Britt

Abby Goldfarb is radiant on the stage as Tzeitel, the first of Tevye’s daughters to rebel against tradition by pledging her love to Motel the tailor. Motel is played by Patrick Varner in an understated fashion that we soon realize encompasses the full range of growth his timid character experiences as he turns into a strong and confident husband. Varner is damn good in doing this. He is a joy when performing Miracle of Miracles.

When Joseph Stein and Jerry Bock first wrote Fiddler they must have had Bobbie Steinbach in mind for the role of Yenta. She takes over the stage as the busy body matchmaker who is seeing the breaks from tradition affecting her business. Just watching her walk on and off the stage is a pleasure.

Abby Goldfarb is radiant on the stage as Tzeitel.

Mr. Pendleton has the Fiddler, played by Dashiell Evett, remain on stage throughout most of the play. His silent presence can be interpreted as, perhaps, a witness to what is happening, or maybe as representing the traditions that are passing. At one point Tevye, while struggling with the decision to disown his daughter Chava (VIctoria Britt) because she has chosen to marry out of the faith, reaches over and joins hands with the Fiddler. It is a poignant moment as we feel the pain of this kind man forced into a terribly difficult position.

Dashiell Even, Amelia Broome, Bobbi Steinbach
Dashiell Even, Amelia Broome, Bobbi Steinbach

The choreography by Kelli Edwards does not disappoint. At first I thought it was going to be very toned down when the dance in To Life did not live up to my boyhood memories of seeing it performed by the Broadway touring company in the 60s. However, the bottle dance during the wedding scene was superb and had the audience clapping along as if they were participants. It is outstanding.

This is a production not to be missed. I would imagine tickets will be selling rapidly, so I would suggest you get yours soon. After seeing it I can guarantee you will leave the theater shouting L’chaim!

Photo credits: Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures

Fiddler On The Roof

Now though January 1st
New Rep Theatre
321 Arsenal Street, Watertown 617.923.8487
enwrap.org

“Hand to God” Opens At SpeakEasy

From January 6 to February 4, 2017, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the New England Premiere of HAND TO GOD, the devilishly smart new comedy about good and evil, sex and sin, written by Robert Askins.

h2g-psdDescribed as “Sesame Street meets The Exorcist” by the New Yorker, HAND TO GOD tells the story of an awkward Texas teen named Jason, who spends his afternoons at his local church, practicing for the Christian Puppet Ministry run by his widowed mother. All hell literally breaks loose, however, when Jason’s puppet Tyrone takes on a shocking and dangerously irreverent personality all its own. Nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Play, HAND TO GOD explores the startlingly fragile nature of faith, morality, and the ties that bind.

Like the young protagonist in his play, HAND TO GOD playwright Robert Askins grew up in a small Texas town, lost his dad at a relatively young age, and even participated in the Christian Puppet Ministry which his mother ran at the local Lutheran church. He didn’t start writing plays until he got to Baylor University, which is where he met playwrights Romulus Linney and Horton Foote. These celebrated writers encouraged Mr. Askins and provided a connection to New York’s Ensemble StudioTheatre, which is where, in 2011, HAND TO GOD had its premiere. In addition to his Tony nomination for HAND TO GOD, Mr. Askins has received two EST/Sloan grants, the Helen Merrill Emerging Playwrights Award, and an Arch and Bruce Davis Award for Playwriting. His most recent play Permission, had its world Premiere Off-Broadway in spring 2015 at MCC Theater.

Norton Award-winner David R. Gammons will direct HAND TO GOD for SpeakEasy. Mr. Gammons’ other SpeakEasy credits include Necessary Monsters, The Whale, The Motherf**ker with the Hat (2013 Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Production and Outstanding Actress), Red (2012 Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Production and Outstanding Actor), and Blackbird.  His work as a director and designer has been featured at American Repertory Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company, New Repertory Theatre, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, among others

The cast for this New England Premiere production is Marianna Bassham, Josephine Elwood, Eliott Purcell, Dario Sanchez, and Lewis D. Wheeler.

The design team is Cristina Todesco (scenic); Gail Astrid Buckley (costumes); Jeff Adelberg (lighting); and Andrew Duncan Will (sound).

HAND TO GOD will run for five weeks, from January 6 through February 4, 2017 in the VirginiaWimberly Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.
For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

To Play At the Lyric Stage January 13 Through February 12

Steven Barkhimer and Paula Plum
Steven Barkhimer and Paula Plum

The Lyric Stage has announced the cast for Edward Albee’s classic play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf set to run from January 1st through February 12th.

Directed by Scott Edmiston who’s My Fair Lady at the Lyric was named among “The Best Theatre of 2015” by the Wall Street Journal, the very strong cast will include Steven Barkhimer (Warrior Class) playing George. He will be joined by the award winning Paula Plum who will portray Martha. Erica Spyres (Company) and Dan Whelton (One Man, Two Guvnors) will play Honey and Nick.

The Lyric Stage is located at 140 Clarendon Street, Boston.

For ticket information:

617.585.5678

lyricstage.com

NEW REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS
 THURGOOD


 by George Stevens, Jr.
 Directed by Benny Sato Ambush, and featuring Johnny Lee Davenport


JANUARY 7-FEBRUARY 5, 2017


New Repertory Theatre presents Thurgood, January 7-February 5, 2017 in the Black Box Theater at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA.
“There is no mistaking the powerful and lasting legacy that Justice Thurgood Marshall had on the judicial system in the United States,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “Arguing landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education deservedly brought him the national attention that eventually propelled him to the nation’s highest court. His story is one of determination and perseverance, so we’re pleased to present this play as we begin our new Prophetic Portraits Series this winter.”
“Thurgood Marshall is the Civil Rights Movement’s unsung hero,” says actor Johnny Lee Davenport. “His nomination to the Supreme Court literally changed America. Looking to the future sometimes means revisiting the past. By doing this play, I hope to remind, maybe even forewarn people that the politics of our country and the laws governing our nation, based on the Constitution of the United States, apply to, and protect all Americans. Not just the rich, not just the privileged, and certainly not just the interests of certain individuals. Thurgood gives us hope and the assurance that one man can make a difference!”
Featuring Johnny Lee Davenport (The Whipping Man) as Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to sit on the Supreme Court, Thurgood spans Marshall’s impressive career as a lawyer, arguing such landmark cases as Brown v. Board of Education. Presented during the final month of the Obama administration, Thurgood is a tribute to Marshall’s enduring legacy.Johnny Lee Davenport* (Thurgood Marshall) returns to New Repertory Theatre after performing in The Whipping Man and A House with No Walls. Other area credits include The Unbleached American (Stoneham Theatre); It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play (Wheelock Family Theatre); Water by the Spoonful and Broke-ology/Elliot Norton Award, Best Actor (The Lyric Stage Company); Driving Miss Daisy and Master Harold…and the Boys (Gloucester Stage Company); and Invisible Man/Helen Hayes Award, Best Ensemble (Studio Theatre Washington, D.C. and The Huntington Theatre Company). Mr. Davenport has played more than 50 roles in 24 of Shakespeare’s plays including Richard III (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company); Pericles (Actors’ Shakespeare Project); and Richard II (Shakespeare & Company). Film credits include Ted, The Fugitive, U.S. Marshals, and Ascendants. He was named Best Actor in Boston Magazine (2011).
Tickets are $19-$42 and may be purchased by calling the New Rep Box Office at 617-923-8487 or visiting newrep.org.

Jack Sharkey vs Joe Louis

The Gob Showed Brilliance
In His One Sided Defeat

by Bobby Franklin

“Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”

Sharkey and Louis Weigh In

The works of great artists show us something new no matter how many times we view them. I have yet to walk away from viewing or reading a play by William Shakespeare without seeing something in it I had not seen before. That is sometimes true because of the way it is directed or performed, but I have the same experience when I read his works. Great art is always open to interpretation. It also effects different people differently, and even can have a different effect on the same person each time he views it.

Often times there are subtleties we miss during a previous experience. Many times I have noticed something in a movie I had missed before even if I have seen the film multiple times. I have watched The Third Man at least two dozen times and I still find new things in it.

Over the past few years I have enjoyed revisiting fights from the past. I have found it interesting how many times I have been surprised at how different a fight was from my memory of it from either having seen it when it occurred or having watched it many years ago and seeing it again for the first time after all those years. The first Louis vs Conn fight and the Ali vs Foreman fight are two that I have written about that turned out to be very different from what my memory told me. In the case of the Louis Conn bout, there seems to be a collective memory that has grown into a legend about that match that is really quite different from what actually occurred that night.

Sharkey In Defensive Mode

There is something else I have learned from reviewing these fights from boxing’s great past. It is possible to learn a lot from watching a great fighter at the end of his career even in a one sided defeat. I recently watched the Joe Louis vs Jack Sharkey bout and found it very interesting. The match lasted only seven minutes and was a one sided win for the Brown Bomber, but Sharkey was very interesting to watch as he fought the last fight of his career.

The bout took place on August 18, 1936 at Yankee Stadium. Just two months earlier Louis had suffered his first career loss, a knock out at the hands of Max Schmeling. Close to 30,000 fans showed up to see if the loss had a lasting effect on Joe.

Jack Sharkey, also known as the Boston Gob, and his manager, Johnny Buckley, had talked their way into the fight with Louis and even managed to get a guarantee of 25% of the gate. It looked like a good final payday for the ex champ. Unless Louis had been completely demoralized by Schmeling, it didn’t appear Sharkey would have any chance of beating him.

Sharkey had lost the title to Primo Carnera in 1933. After that, Jack had six fights leading up to the Louis fight. He only won two of them with three losses and a draw. Given his record it would appear he would be a perfect comeback opponent for Louis, and maybe that is why they were agreeable to giving him such a good payday. He still had the cache of being a former Heavyweight Champion of the World.

When the opening bell rang it didn’t take long to see that Joe was not at all gun shy. The loss to Schmeling had not hurt his confidence. If anything, it had only made him more determined and focused.

Jack came out to meet Louis in the first round only to run into a sharp young opponent. Max Baer once said “Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.” Well, Sharkey may not have felt that when he stepped into the ring, but he certainly knew that’s what he was dealing with seconds into the bout.

Now here is where my comments about seeing things that have gone unnoticed in previous viewings come into play. Jack Sharkey was definitely an artist in the ring. He was a master boxer who’s biggest fault was his lack of consistency. Given that, he still possessed outstanding talent. At this point in his career he was well over the hill. You can see that in his lack of leg movement. Jack had been light on his feet when younger, but now they looked to be stiff and tired. It is not good being in a race with a young athlete while having two flat tires.

Once the bout got underway Jack had to know he had no chance of beating Louis. But Jack was also a champion and wasn’t going to just quit. So, what could he do? Well, this is where you get to see some amazing moves.

Jack reached down for every trick he knew. He used body feints, arm feints, he rolled with the punches, he tied Louis up when he could. He attempted to counter Louis’s jab, but no longer had the reflexes to be effective.

Louis Drops Sharkey

What you end up seeing when watching this fight is a once great boxer preforming some amazing moves, only they are now being done in slow motion, which makes them easier to see. Nothing worked to save him from being stopped, but they did prevent Jack from suffering a much worse beating.

The treat for students of boxing in watching this seven minute fight is in studying how Sharkey attempts to survive the Louis onslaught. Yes, it is a one sided fight, and Sharkey goes down four times, but in between you get to see a formerly great artist reaching to his palate in an attempt to paint one more masterpiece. He is not able to do it, but he does still show amazing skill. A lot can be learned from watching Jack Sharkey during his final few minutes in the ring.

Max Baer and Barney Ross: Jewish Heroes of Boxing

Jeffrey Sussman, Rowman and Littlefield, 2016. 193 pages with photographs.
Reviewed by Len Abram

Jews were a vital part of the ascendancy of boxing. From 1901 to 1939, according to boxing historian Mike Silver, they produced 29 world champions, about 16% of the total. Why did Jews enter boxing in such numbers? Why would sweatshop workers spend a $1 to see a match when they earned perhaps $5 a week?

Jeffrey Sussman’s answers these questions by focusing on two Jewish world champions, Max Baer and Barney Ross. Others have written at greater length about Baer and Ross, their careers and lives. Sussman, however, focuses on the significance of their popularity. Part American history and part family nostalgia, Sussman’s book deals with what Jews did for boxing and what boxing did for Jews.

The two fighters didn’t begin from scratch. They had predecessors, who fought before them and made their achievements if not possible, at least more likely. The great lightweight Benny Leonard, oft quoted for calling boxing a game of chess more than brawn, and Abe Attell , “the Little Hebrew,” were both early Jewish champions. Leonard won the Lightweight championship at age 21 in 1917 and defended it seven times. His success, Sussman says, undermined anti-Semitic stereotypes.    Attell was Featherweight champion from 1906 to 1912, with a reputation of being afraid of no one.

Baer and Ross were unalike in many ways. Baer, of course, was a heavyweight and Ross a world champion in three lighter divisions. Beryl Rosofsky (Barney Ross) came from the Jewish ghetto in New York City, his parents Orthodox Jews, his father a Talmudic scholar. The neighborhood was dangerous; Ross’s father was killed in a robbery. Max Baer grew up in rural California, a farm, his mother a Gentile, and his father a non-practicing Jew. Both fighters wore the star of David on their trunks, but for Baer, it may have been to promote his bout with the German Schmeling, a favorite of the Nazis. Regardless, Baer wore the Jewish symbol for the rest of his career. Like Ross, he accepted his role to represent Jews.

Their boxing styles were also different. Baer was a big heavyweight, over six feet and 220 pounds, whose right hand punch was so powerful that he won over 50 fights by knockout. He was also famous for not training hard, a handsome man, who later became a movie star, more involved in gossipy romances, than in hours at the gym. He relied on that powerful punch to stay competitive. Ross was of medium height, no more than 147 pounds as a welterweight. He was the superior athlete, who trained hard, winning championships in three different divisions. Rather than a slugger, Ross was a “scientific” fighter, following the Benny Leonard model, boxing as a chess game.

Ross was a “scientific” fighter, following the Benny Leonard model, boxing as a chess game.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Jews faced rising anti-Semitism, both here and abroad. Here, Father Charles Coughlin spoke to millions on the radio about Jewish bankers controlling our country. Industrialist Henry Ford, whom Hitler admired, published that a Jewish conspiracy was out to control the world. National hero Charles Lindbergh accused the Jews of pushing America into war with Germany.

When Max Baer stepped into the ring in 1933 to fight Hitler’s favorite boxer, Max Schmeling, the star of David on Baer’s trunks proclaimed that the Jews had a champion. Victorious, Baer became the first Jewish heavyweight champion. Ross’s famous bout with Jimmy McLarnin in 1935 had a similar appeal for Jewish fans: McLarnin was called the “Hebrew Scourge” because he defeated so many Jewish boxers. Ross won the decision. Although neither Schmeling nor McLarnin were anti-Semites, they were painted by social conflicts of the time.

Jews in boxing became “symbols of courage and defiance in age rife with anti-Semitism,” Sussman concludes.

After Baer and Ross retired, Baer went to Hollywood to make movies, one of which was banned in Germany because Baer was Jewish or defeated Shmeling, no one is sure. When World War II began, Baer joined the Army. When war broke out, Ross at age 32 (and plagued with gambling debts) joined the Marines and volunteered for combat.

On Guadalcanal, Ross was badly wounded, yet saved what was left of his platoon against many Japanese attackers. He won the Silver Star, but the narcotics he received for his wounds lead to life-altering addiction.   At the infamous rock bottom addicts often face, Ross put himself into drug treatment. Successful, he later he lectured to youngsters about the dangers of drugs. Ross was a strong supporter of the state of Israel. The star of David, like the one on his trunks, is on the stone marker of his grave.

The sport of boxing is in decline, Sussman admits, certainly far from its golden era. He notes that mob influence tainted the sport, along with exploitive managers and promoters, indifferent to the wellbeing of the boxer. The threat to a boxer’s health from brain damage, pugilistic dementia, also hastened the decline. Today, the professions and trades have more to offer young people than the ring. The sport appears to be more popular in films than in arenas.

Yet, for a time, Jews found champions in boxing to defend and to affirm them until acceptance as valued members, to share and to shape American life.

(This review first appeared in the Jewish Advocate.)

 

 

Don’t Bring The Kids To This Puppet Show

Hand To God
SpeakEasy Stage
Calderwood Pavilion, Boston
Through February 4th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Waiting for the curtain to rise for Hand To God I was listening to the usual pre theatre check list regarding shutting off cell phones and noting the exits. The speech was given in what “enlightened” people in the cities believe is a rural accent, with references to Jesus. I thought, oh here we go, another play that takes plenty of cheap shots at the “uneducated” working class that is motivated by a multitude of “isms” when they vote. You know, those hayseeds who cling to their guns and Bibles.

Tyrone Attacks Timothy
Photo: Glenn Perry Photography

My fears were not realized. While I could see that many believers would be offended by much of the humor in the play, it wasn’t gratuitous. This is a very dark and disturbing comedy that looks into the lives of five characters who are struggling to find answers and meaning in their lives. Primarily, Margery (Marianna Bassham), who has recently lost her husband, and her son Jason (Eliot Purcell) who is struggling with the loss of his father.

Eliot Purcell as Jason/Tyrone is superb.

Margery runs a Christian puppet theatre at the local church and Jason is one of the puppeteers. Things start to go off the rails when Tyrone, the sock puppet Jason manipulates starts to take on a life off his own. Tyrone does not mince words. He is vulgar, vicious, violent, blunt, and truthful. It appears to the other members of the church, as well as the audience, that demonic possession may be at play here. And that is what is at the core of this very funny and unsettling play; Should we listen to that dark side when it speaks to us? Though we say we want to hear the truth, do we often feel so uncomfortable with it that we write it off as something the devil has created?

Eliot Purcell as Jason/Tyrone is superb. In what must be a very difficult role that involves many scenes where he has to play opposite his hand, he nails it.

Marianna Bassham as Margery and David Ladani Sanchez as the unruly teen Timothy are hysterical in the scene where they lust after each other while tearing up the puppet theater. Bassham is also touching in conveying the hurt and loss Margery is suffering.

Tyrone, Jason, Pastor Greg.
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography

Lewis D. Wheeler as Pastor Greg and Josephine Elwood as Jessica are also well cast.

Ironically, as the play concludes the author, Robert Askins, found the need to become a bit preachy himself. This was not needed and actually seemed to be a bit hypocritical.

This play is not for everyone. The language is quite vulgar and the fun made of “uneducated”believers who eat at Chick-fil-a, while not over the top, will offend many.

It would be interesting to attend a performance with a group of devout Christians and then have a talk back afterwards. The results of that conversation may be surprising. And, after all, isn’t theatre about getting people to think about things and then listen to each other’s views? I think it would be fun.

Boxing Is Dead. May It Rest In Peace

My New Year’s Resolution

by Bobby Franklin
It’s the New Year and a time for resolutions. I don’t usually make any as, like rules, they are only made to be broken. However, this year I think I am going to resolve to give up something.

Most of my columns are about fights and boxers from the past. I also try to shed light on the issue of brain injuries that result from a person’s time in the ring (This issue also crosses over into football and other contact sports). On occasion I will write about a current boxing match, but that is rarely done in a positive tone.

Boxing has not been killed by outside forces. It has committed suicide.

A little over a year ago I watched the worst heavyweight title fight in history, the one between Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko. These two proved themselves to be the absolute worst heavyweights in the history of boxing. I wrote about that fight at the time, but looking back I can say that was the day boxing finally died. Oh, it had been suffering a long and painful death for many years, but that spectacle was an absolute disgrace.

After that, I did keep watching boxing. It has been sad looking at just how far this sport has come from what was once known as The Manly Art of Self Defense.

About a week ago former champion Bernard Hopkins took on Joe Smith, Jr for some version of the light heavyweight championship. There are so many different versions and so many different weight classes today that it is impossible to identify any boxer as a true world champion.

The 27 year old Smith came into the ring with what looked on paper to be an impressive record of 22 wins in 23 fights with 18 knock outs. Hopkins at age 51 was once a very good fighter who’s best days should be long past him. Yet, Hopkins still manages to be competitive. In this fight he was stopped after being knocked out of the ring, but until the time of the stoppage he was giving Smith all he could handle.

Now Hopkins is in good shape for a 51 year old man. He takes good care of himself and is quite fit. But he is no Superman. Time has never been kind to aging champions and Hopkins is no exception. What is exceptional is the utter lack of talent in boxing today that allows a man who should be spending time out on the golf course and with his grandchildren to be a factor in championship circles. Make no mistake about it, the only reason Hopkins is able to still challenge the current competition is because they do not know how to fight. It is plain and simple.

I urge my readers to take time and study the videos of the champions and contenders of the past and make the comparison. There is no way you can objectively view a Jersey Joe Walcott, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joey Maxim, Billy Conn, Archie Moore, and many more former champs in action and not come to the conclusion they would crush today’s collection of paper champions.

Even the contenders from the years gone by, those who never made it to the top would have a field day today. George Benton, Artie Levine, Gaspar Ortega, Holman Williams, and thousands of others would have a field day toying with this crop.

Without teachers the students have no one to learn from.

Boxers today are well conditioned and dedicated. Most of them have plenty of heart and a desire to win. The problem is they have never been taught the art of boxing. They also train like weight lifters so their muscles are tight and they do not move with the fluidity that makes for a talented boxer. I feel sorry for them as they devote so much time to learning how not to be a boxer. There is an old saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.” The teaching methods used today have given us a sport that does not even remotely resemble the great profession it once was. Without teachers the students have no one to learn from. The television people are happy to have matches where fighters simply hit each other in the head a lot, and the fans don’t know better as they have grown up watching a generation of unskilled participants going at it.

I realize boxing has been pronounced dead almost from the time of Cain and Able’s epic fight, but today it is different. In the past it may have been counted out because of mob involvement, or a death in the ring, or competition from television, or even over exposure on TV. There was always some reason it was said to be over, but today is different. How can you have a sport continue to exist when the participants do not know how to practice it? When there is nobody left to teach it? Boxing has not been killed by outside forces. It has committed suicide.

I have given up my subscriptions to HBO, Showtime, and the other channels that give us travesties such as the Fury Klitchko fight. I have resolved to no longer torture myself by watching something billed as boxing. Boxing went into a coma a number of years ago and has now finally slipped into that dark night.

I have now resolved to stop watching it. It has become too painful. I will continue to follow the parts of it that relate to brain injuries and to write about the progress being made into the the research being done to make all contact sports safer. I will continue to research and write about the rich history of the once great sport. I will not write about a sport that does not exist any longer.

Boxing will not be back. The days when the Heavyweight Champion of the World was one of the most recognized people on the planet are gone, never to return.

Thurgood Is Supreme At The New Rep

Thurgood

New Rep Theater, Watertown
Through February 7th
newrep.org

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Johnny Lee Davenport
Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Last night I got to spend the evening with former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. I and a number of other people got to see him in a small theatre in Watertown, MA. He told us about his life, his struggles, his battles. He was funny and touching. We felt the pain and the frustrations he went through as he fought to desegregate the schools and fight to ensure that all of the citizens of the United States were treated equally. We heard him argue before the Supreme Court. We shared in his disappointment when losing a case and his joy when he shared his victories, of which there were many, most notably in Brown v Board of Education.

Justice Marshall passed away in 1991, but he is very much alive in the intimate setting of the Black Box Theatre at the New Rep in Watertown. He is because of the amazing talent of Johnny Lee Davenport.

Davenport’s portrayal of Marshall in Thurgood will be remembered as one of the great performances of the year.

When Mr. Davenport first steps into the theater he is walking with a cane and begins reflecting on this amazing life. We are at Howard University where Marshall learned that a black law student had to learn to be better than good because of the challenges he would face.

Johnny Lee Davenport
Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

While attending Lincoln College, Marshall was classmates with Langston Hughes who taught him that “One man can make a difference.” and early on the future Supreme Court Justice vowed he was not going to go through life being humiliated because of the color of his skin.

Johnny Lee Davenport relates these stories and so many others in this amazing journey with such authenticity that there were times when I almost stood up to ask him, meaning Justice Marshall, a question. Mr. Davenport’s movements about the stage, his pauses, the emotions, the subtleties in voice and step that cue us in on the different periods of Marshall’s life are so smooth and authentic that there was never a moment when I didn’t feel I was actually in the presence of Thurgood Marshall.

The Black Box Theater is small. The stage is set with a leather chair on wheels, a table, coat rack, a briefcase, and a stack of books. On the wall are photos of people and places from Marshall’s life including his first wife Buster. Mr. Davenport reaches under the table at times to bring out a small lectern that he uses while arguing cases. It is the ideal setting for such a production. The audience is part of this play as Mr. Davenport makes continuous eye contact with people.

At one point Marshall asks an audience member to read the 14th Amendment. It is a moving moment as we hear the words that guarantee all Americans, ALL AMERICANS, equal protection under the law.

Johnny Lee Davenport
Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

At another point he reaches into his briefcase and takes out two baby dolls, one black and one white. This was the famous doll test that was conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark. It is heartbreaking to hear the results of what happened when black children were asked which doll they thought was better and which they would like to be.

Justice Marshall had his flaws as do all humans, but what he accomplished in his life was simply amazing. This man who was born in the same year Jack Johnson became the first Heavyweight Champion, would not rest until this nation abided by the words in the 14th Amendment. He used, in his words, the law as a weapon. It was a weapon he wielded wisely and successfully.

George Stevens, Jr. has put together a wonderful script that never misses a beat. Benny Sato Ambush’s directing is terrific.. They have done an important service in putting together for the stage this amazing story.

I know it is early in the 2017 theatre season, but I can ensure you that Johnny Lee Davenport’s portrayal of Marshall in Thurgood will be remembered as one of the great performances of the year.

A Doll’s House Worthy Of A Visit

A Doll’s House

by Henrik Ibsen

Andrea Syglowski and Sekou Laidlaw
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Adapted by Bryony Lavery
Directed by Melian Bensussen
At The Huntington Theatre Company
Through February 5th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The other night I saw the Huntington Theatre Company production of A Doll’s House. It was an evening of terrific theatre. The Ibsen classic about marriage, blackmail, unrequited love, and finding one’s self is a timeless work. This version has been updated by Bryony Lavery and the language flows beautifully while the story never skips a beat. The beautiful staging also makes this a visual treat.

…the language flows beautifully while the story never skips a beat.

The fine cast is led by Andrea Syglowski as Nora who plays opposite Sekou Laidlow as her husband Torvald. Mr. Laidlow plays his part subtly at first in the way he treats Nora as a child, but eventually it becomes clear just how demeaning he is to her. Nora is content with her life, as Torvald has received a promotion which means more money and a better life. However, when a secret from Nora’s past arises that threatens to destroy their marriage Nora begins to see things in a different light, though it isn’t untill the final scene that she fully understands what her life is about.

Ms Syglowski is an absolute joy to watch.

This is a first rate production, and Ms Syglowski is an absolute joy to watch. She shows great humor in the first act. Her timing is impeccable, with a full range of emotions. She moves from a wife who is being treated as a plaything by her husband to a woman who realizes she must find out for herself what life truly means.

Sekou Laidlow as Torvald plays his part subtly at first but then we see just how demeaning his treatment of Nora is. The progression works well.

It is an outstanding evening of theatre, one not to be missed.

Nael Nacer as Krogstad, the man who attempts to blackmail Nora does not illicit much sympathy, but Nacer conveys the pain his character is in and it is soon apparent that he is motivated by desperation and not cruelty.

Dr. Rank, the longtime family friend of the Helmer’s reveals he is dying. It is also revealed that he has been in love with Nora for years. Jeremy Webb does a fine job of portraying this unhappy man who always has a smile on his face.

Elise Rose Walker, Marinda Anderson, Gavin Daniel Walker, and Adrianne KrstanskyPhoto: T. Charles Erickson

And then there is Christine Linde. Mrs. Linde is played by Marinda Anderson. She and Krogstad were once lovers, and she tells Nora she will try to convince Krogstad to take back a letter he has left for Torvald that exposes Nora’s secret. In his joy at being back with Christine he agrees.  However, it is Christine who is able to see everything in perspective and decides to let things play out for the Helmers. She tells Krogsatd to leave the letter. Ms Anderson plays the part as much with her expressions as with her words, and she does it well.

Andrea Syglowski’s Nora will be remembered.

The final scene where Torvald reads the letter and explodes at Nora is just incredible. He tells her their marriage will now be just for show because she has brought shame on them. Then when he reads a second note from Torvald that includes the promissory note and says he is not going to pursue the matter, Torvald suddenly changes and is the happy husband again. At this point Nora fully comprehends that their marriage has always been for show and she lets all of her feelings out. Ms Syglowski is outstanding in this scene in which Nora describes how she has always been treated as a play doll, first by her father

Andrea Syglowski and Sekou Laidlow
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

and then by Torvald. She is not going to live her life that way any longer. It is a very powerful scene and one you will not forget. Andrea Syglowski’s Nora will be remembered.

A Doll’s House has been called a feminist play, but it is a play that should appeal to all people as it shows how often we make compromises and sometimes make bad choices in order for our lives to have order and make sense. However, by doing so we often end  becoming very unhappy. Nora shows us we have choices.

When you leave the theatre after seeing this production of A Doll’s House you will have much to think about, and that is why I like it so much. You wonder what will become of Nora.

Once again, the Huntington has put on an outstanding production of a classic play. It is not to be missed.

http://www.huntingtontheatre.org

A Fresh And Very Intense Virginia Woolf

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

At The Lyric Stage
Copley Square, Boston
Through February 12th
Directed by Scott Edmiston
Lyricstage.com

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Paula Plum and Steven Barkhimer (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

When I read that Steven Barkhimer, whom I had recently seen in Warrior Class, was being cast as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Lyric Stage I had high expectations for him. Mr. Barkhimer was excellent as the political operative in Warrior Class, and I could envision him in the role of George. He did not disappoint me.

The current run at the Lyric includes three other fine actors, Paula Plum (Martha), Erica Spyres (Honey), and Dan Whelton (Nick). With direction by Scott Edmiston we are treated to a fresh look at this classic play. If you are looking for Liz and Richard go to Netflix. The actors on stage here bring their own interpretations to the roles and they do an excellent job of it.

Ms Plum and Mr. Barhimer are a tour de force as George and Martha.

If it has been a while since you have seen Edward Albee’s classic, or if this is your first time, you may be surprised at how many laughs there are in the first act. George’s sarcasm and cutting remarks directed at everyone in the living room where the play is set are quite funny and elicit much laughter. However, as Act II gets underway we find that he is not just drunk and having fun at the expense of his wife and guests, but is seething with self loathing. This loathing is shared by Martha who is also quite witty in her nastiness.

Barkhimer, Spyres, Whelton (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

The characters get uglier and nastier as the play progresses. This includes Nick and Honey who, at first, appear taken aback by the sadistic behavior but end up getting taken up by it.

Paula Plum captures Martha’s disappointment (that’s certainly a mild word for it) and frustration in George’s failure to accomplish more in his life, while her attacks on him only feed into his own self hate which feeds his anger. They fuel each other’s rage.

The set is interesting in that the frame around it that represents the outside of the house is off kilter as is the front door. As I looked at it I got the sense of the alcoholic haze the characters were in. It was like one of those old movies where a player gets hit over the head and the film goes blurry to give a picture of what he is seeing through his eyes.

Whelton, Plum, and Birhimer. (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

Ms Plum and Mr. Barhimer are a tour de force as George and Martha. Gnawing at each other’s hearts in an alcohol infused rage it is hard to believe, though it is true, they actually love each other. The problem is, they hate their lives.

Ms Spyres and Mr. Whelton do a fine job playing the clean cut early 60s college educated couple who really are not so clean cut after all.

Woolf is not an easy play to watch. It is disturbing seeing these college faculty members cutting each other to pieces. It must have been extremely shocking when it first opened in 1962, and even with the language having been updated by Mr. Albee to include many expletives, you might think it would seem mild by today’s standards. It isn’t. This production is excellent and well worth seeing, but just remember, you won’t leave the theater smiling.

A Little More About The Comedy of Errors In Hartford

by Bobby Franklin

Well, January isn’t even over yet and I have already reviewed five plays to kick off the new year. While just about everything I have seen has been good, some superb, I have to say The Comedy of Errors at the Hartford Stage is going to be tough to top. My review only touched on some of what made that production so great.

Matthew Macca and Ryan-James Hatanaka
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

I have to add that while it certainly had a Greek theme it also included the music from a Chubby Checker recording of Never on a Sunday in both English and Greek versions as transitional music that gave a definite Beach Blanket Bingo feel to it. Two Carmen Miranda tunes, Tico Tico and Cuanto Le Gusta were delightful. Cuanto Le Gusta was performed marvelously by the two Dromeos (Alan Schmuckler and Matthew Macca), while Nell (Tara Heal)treated us to Tico, Tico And, there was a huge Bollywood scene with the entire cast dancing to Chunari, Chunari from Monsoon Wedding. It was spectacular!

All great fun!

 

 

Original review:

There Are No Errors In This Comedy

There Are No Errors In This Comedy

The Comedy of Errors

At The Hartford Stage
50 Church Street
Hartford, CT
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Through February 12th
www.hartfordstage.org

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Louis Tucci, Paula Leggett Chase, Alexander Sovronsky
Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Returning home after viewing the Saturday matinee performance of the Hartford Stage production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors I wanted to immediately sit down and write my review. There was one problem however, I could not stop laughing long enough to focus on my keyboard.

Director Darko Tresnjak has taken one of the Bard’s earliest plays and set it in 1965 Greece while adding music and dance to it. From the opening when Paula Leggett Chase steps out and sings a sexy and sultry Never On A Sunday in the best tradition of Melina Mercouri, I knew this was going to be something very special.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The set, which was designed by Darko, is breathtaking. Save your money on a ticket to Greece, you are there when you step into the theater. The colors are vibrant, with boats docked at the foot of the stage, the Phoenix and the Priory rising behind it and the Greek countryside as a backdrop is something to behold.
It is the Greece of Topkapi and Zorba.

Save your money on a ticket to Greece, you are there when you step into the theater.

But what would Greece be without music and dance? Drawing on original songs from the period and using onstage musicians playing on a bouzouki and an accordion for much of it, (some of the music is piped in and also great), the audience becomes a part of the experience. Throw in some moussaka and baklava for good measure.

I guarantee you will leave the theater with tears of laughter streaming from your face

Now top this off with Shakespeare’s madcap story about two sets of twins and the mixups that ensue along with an outstanding cast and you have one of the best plays on stage so far this season. Sprinkle some Marx Brothers flavored comedy on top and the laughter never stops. How often do you get to see a Shakespeare play with scuba divers, surfboards, beachballs, rubber chickens, and a human battering ram? All this while retaining the original language and story. And, all taking place within a 24 hour period.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Trying to chose a particular moment or actor to praise is too difficult in such a fine production. Everyone is just wonderful and spot on. Seeing so many actors staying in synch while so many different and crazy things are occurring is marvelous. This production is fast paced, constantly funny, musically delightful, and filled with wonderful dance numbers. It is a joy to watch all of them perform. The lighting and choreography are up to the usual high standards of the Hartford.

This production is fast paced, constantly funny, musically delightful, and filled with wonderful dance numbers.

When someone asks me to pick a Shakespeare play for their first time experience, I don’t suggest The Comedy of Errors. It is funny but not with the depth of his later work. However, after seeing this production I can recommend it without any reservations. If you
have stayed away from Shakespeare because you thought he wrote in another language, or if you are a lifetime Bardologist, you owe it to yourself to make the trip to the Hartford Stage. If I lived closer I would see it again, and again.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Darko Tresnjak and the Hartford Stage have never disappointed me with their Shakespeare productions. There are many excellent companies in New England performing these works, but The Hartford Stage ranks at the top.

After attending a performance I guarantee you will leave the theater with tears of laughter streaming from your face, the salt of the Mediterranean in your nose, a hunger for some moussaka, and an urge to cry out, “Zorba, teach me to dance!”

A Little More About The Comedy of Errors In Hartford

Johnny Risko The Cleveland Rubber Man

New Biography Gives Rugged Contender
The Recognition He Deserves

Johnny Risko: The Cleveland Rubber Man

By Jerry Fitch

Tora Book Publishing, 168 pages, $18.00

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The 1920s and 1930s were truly boxing’s Golden Age. Just the shear number of participants in the sport guaranteed it. Boxing historian Mike Silver points out in his book, The Arc of Boxing, there were between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters licensed during this period. In 1927 New York and California alone had 2,000 licensed boxers each. That is way above the total number of fighters participating today, and these fighters were much more active. Because there were so many fighters there were also a huge number of fight venues. During these years, and even during the Great Depression, a boxer could make a decent living fighting every couple of weeks. Add to this the fact that there were gyms everywhere that were filled with excellent trainers. Where a boxer never lacked for sparring, and you can see why fighters from this period were so good.

While places like New York were certainly Meccas for boxing, the rest of the country did not lack in fight clubs. In these pre television days boxing was one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Cleveland, Ohio had a very vibrant fight scene, and  boxing historian Jerry Fitch is working hard to keep the history of boxing in that area alive. Jerry is the author of a terrific biography of the great heavyweight Jimmy Bivins as well as “Cleveland’s Greatest Fighters of All Time”, and a memoir, “50 Years of Fights, Fighters, and Friendships.

Johnny Risko

In his latest work Jerry takes his keen historian’s eye and focuses it on one of the toughest and most prolific fighters to emerge from Cleveland, heavyweight contender Johnny Risko, also known as “The Rubber Man” because of his ability to take punches and still keep coming forward. This is not too say Risko just stood there and absorbed punches, no, he was also a skilled boxer, but it was next to impossible to knock him down or out. In fact, in approximately 140 fights (the exact number is not known) Johnny was only stopped three times one of which was by the great Max Schmeling. He was counted out only one time and that was in his last bout when he was 38 years old.

Reading Jerry Fitch’s book on Risko is a boxing history lesson in itself as it goes beyond the career of Johnny Risko. Just reading through the Cleveland contender’s record is amazing. The names that appear there, the people he fought, is a who’s who of boxing from that glorious period. It is staggering to see who the Rubber Man went up against. Jack Sharkey, Gene Tunney, Mickey Walker, Tom Heeney, Max Baer, Tony Galento, Tommy Loughran, Ernie Schaaf, to name just a few. And Risko was no “opponent”. He beat many of these men. He split a pair of decisions with Baer and beat Louhgran two out of four times. No, Risko was far from an opponent, he is more remembered as a “spoiler” as he ruined many a contender’s chance at getting a title shot.

Max Schmeling and Risko

While just looking at the Risko record can be enough to excite any fight fan, it is in reading Jerry’s lively account of his life and battles that is really a treat. Mr. Fitch has done tireless research in digging up accounts, many of them first hand round by round reports, of these great fights. You are there when Johnny beats George Godfrey, you have a seat at the Risko v Schmeling bout, you can see the smile of frustration on Max Baer’s face as he is unable to hurt the Rubber Man. This is living history.

Along the way Jerry also treats his readers to short, but detailed, biographies of many of Risko’s opponents. His treatment of Max Schmeling is very interesting. In just a few pages he gives a concise account of of the German’s career and fighting style.

Johnny Risko’s life is also covered in great detail. He was a smart businessman who walked away from boxing with money in his pocket and an appreciation for life. As I moved along in this book I felt I was really getting to know this interesting character from Cleveland’s past. He sounds like a guy who was quick with a smile and a happy remark. I doubt anyone would have felt uncomfortable in Risko’s company.

Risko Jabs Jack Sharkey

So why didn’t Johnny Risko ever get a shot at the title? Well, he came close many times but the timing was never quite right. Back then fighters didn’t score a victory over a top fighter and then wait around for the big fight. No, they kept fighting and sometimes would lose and get set back a bit. In the days of Johnny Risko, being a top contender really meant something. As is pointed out in this fine biography, Johnny was a top notch fighter. He was a true contender. Take a second to look at his record and I know you will want to learn more about him. Fortunately, thanks to Jerry Fitch you have that opportunity. His book will bring the Cleveland Rubber Man to life for you.

I would like to point out if it weren’t for dedicated boxing historians such as Jerry Fitch who devote untold hours researching these greats of the past they would be forgotten. Jerry, and others like him, deserve the eternal gratitude of all boxing fans who care about the legacy of this once great sport. It is important to support the work they do.

Thank you Jerry Fitch for the work you do. Johnny Risko and the others are looking down from above and smiling.

Information about and signed copies of “Johnny Risko, The Cleveland Rubber Man” by Jerry Fitch can be obtained by emailing Jerry at JerryFitch1946 [at] gmail [dot] com

Epic Brecht At The New Rep

Brecht on Brecht

Directed by Jim Petosa
New Repertory Theatre
Watertown, MA
Through March 5th

Carla Martinez, Brad Danile Peloquin, Jake Murphy, Christine Hamel Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Bertolt Brecht envisioned plays being performed in settings much the way a boxing match is. He felt the audience (crowd) should not become lost in the production but rather stay aware of the fact they are watching a play and to think about what they are witnessing. He believed in the use of harsh lighting that did not hide the audience. He also wanted people to engage in the ideas that were being presented. This method became known as Epic Theatre.

Jim Petosa has given us a wonderful opportunity to see this type of theatre

The Black Box Theatre at the Mosesian Center for the Arts is the perfect venue for such a work, and The New Repertory Theatre under the direction of Jim Petosa has given us a wonderful opportunity to see this type of theatre close up, as it should be.

With the audience seated on three sides of the stage and the lights kept up throughout most of the piece, the actors engage the spectators as Brecht preferred to call the audience.

Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Jake Murphy (Photo: Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures)

There are four actors all of whom represent some aspect of Bertolt Brecht. They are accompanied by Matthew Stern on piano. The poetry and lyrics are all from Brecht. At times it can be a bit chaotic, sometimes reminiscent of a beatnik coffee house poetry session, a bit madcap, and always engaging. The actors arrive noisily on the black and white stage in a shopping cart and are wearing bright red clown noses. They immediately disrupt things by knocking over music stands and making firm eye contact with the spectators.

The actors, Christine Hamel, Brad Daniel Peloquin, Carla Martinez, and Jake Murphy who are listed in the program as Mature Woman, Mature Man, Young Woman, and Young Man respectively are all very engaging, which is exactly what this work is meant to be.

We hear Brecht’s thoughts on many subjects including the blight of the intellectual under totalitarian regimes (in one case an author was upset his books had not been destroyed), and theatre. The piece on theatre reminded me of Shakespeare’s advice to the players from Hamlet. While the dialog can be provocative, different conclusions can be drawn from it. Brecht wanted his spectators to grapple with the ideas, not just sit and take them in.

Jake Murphy, Carla Martinez, Christine Hamel, Matthew Stern on Piano. (Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

A scene where Ms Hamel is making numerous calls to friends in order to explain why she must go away for a while is chilling as we realize she is fleeing the Nazis. The changes in her voice when speaking with different people is very telling. Her comments are quite thought provoking as she reveals her change in status and how it has effected her views of others. Matthew Stern’s use of the piano for sound effects is just right.

Carla Martinez and Jake Murphy bring anger and brashness to the poetry. Again, so much is said that could be taken one way at first glance but when thought about more deeply can be seen in different ways.

Brad Danial Peloquin is just marvelous with his amazing tenor voice.

Brad Danial Peloquin is just marvelous with his amazing tenor voice. A voice that is not only a joy to hear when he is singing but also when he is engaged in dialog and poetry. He is simply sublime. His rendition of Mack the Knife is certainly not reminiscent of Bobby Darin, and that is meant as a compliment. Mr. Peloquin is superb as he moves about the stage accompanied by Mr. Stern on the piano.

Brecht on Brecht is not easy if you are walking in cold. The music is almost exclusively written in minor keys and can be quite heavy. It is not the type of theatre most people are accustomed to. It is, however, an experience that should be taken in. Director Petosa has assembled a wonderful cast who are fully up to the task of presenting this work the way it should be done. Bridget K. Doyle’s lighting design was spot on (pun intended).

I would suggest spending a short time reading up on Epic Theatre (just Google the term) before going. If you do that you will understand just what a fine work the New Rep is presenting here. It is something special to see and hear. It is also a work that will make you think. Just remember, you are not being preached to, you are being engaged. You are being asked to think, to argue, to participate. This is an evening of very interesting theatre. Do a little preparation and step into the arena.

newrep.org
617.923.8487

Theatre Openings

Another Round Of Theatre Productions Is Coming Up And There Is No Shortage Of Productions To Fill  Your Calendars.

The SpeakEasy Stage will be kicking things off with Grand Concourse which will run from March 5th to April 1st Calderwood Pavillion located in Boston’s South End.

GRAND CONCOURSE tells the story of Shelley, a Catholic nun and former high school basketball star, who now struggles to find meaning in her work as the manager of a Bronx soup kitchen. With the help of Oscar, a former Dominican dentist now making a living as a security guard, Shelley tends to her flock, a colorful crew that includes Frog, a homeless former intellectual who now passes time writing joke books. The arrival of Emma, a college dropout looking for a sense of purpose, is at first a welcome addition to the team, but the girl’s erratic behavior soon takes its toll. With gentle humor and great heart, GRAND CONCOURSE explores the mysteries of faith, forgiveness, and compassion.

The cast includes Ally Dawson, Thomas Derrah, Melinda Lopez, and Alejandro Simoes.

From March 10th though April 7th the Huntington Theatre Company will be presenting Top Dog/Underdog at the BU Theater on Huntington Avenue in Boston.

Topdog/Underdog is a darkly comic, deeply theatrical fable about family wounds and healing bonds. Lincoln and Booth are brothers: best friends and bitter rivals. Lincoln, a former 3-card monte hustler, works as a Lincoln impersonator in a shooting gallery; Booth is an aspiring grifter. He tempts his brother to get back in the game, but the consequences could be deadly.

Suzan-Lori Parks made history as the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002 with Topdog/Underdog. Additionally, she is named among Time magazine’s “100 Innovators for the Next Wave” and is also the recipient of two Obie Awards and a MacArthur “Genius” Grant.

Over at the Lyric Stage on Clarendon Street in Boston you will be able to see Stage Kiss running from February 24th through March 26th.

Life imitates Art. Art imitates Life — and Love. In Stage Kiss, two squabbling long-lost loves are cast as long-lost lovers, and quickly lose touch with reality in this comic, romantic, and revealing play-within-a-play. Playwright Sarah Ruhl and Director Courtney O’Connor (Red Hot Patriot, Buyer & Cellar) take us on-stage, back-stage, and right out the stage door in this charming tale about what happens when lovers share a stage kiss and when actors share a real one.

Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 will run at the Hartford Stage from February 23rd through March 19th in, where else?, Hartford, CT.

The world of Cloud 9 contains unexpected trysts, gender swaps, role reversals and power plays. Victorian repression clashes with liberal expression as the play follows a British family from colonial Africa to London in the 1970s. The tantalizing comedy explores the ever-changing world of sexual politics as it asks what it takes for each of us to reach our own Cloud 9.

Cloud 9 was Caryl Churchill’s first international hit. The playwright’s other works include Top Girls, Mad Forest, Love and Information, A Number and Serious Money. The Guardian recently wrote that Churchill “now shares with Tom Stoppard the title of Britain’s most significant living dramatist.”

There is plenty to see, many fine theatre companies producing excellent work, and so much great talent performing. The weather is improving and there is no better way to spend an afternoon or evening than enjoying a play. The folks at all of these theaters work hard to give us first class productions and they rarely fail. We are lucky to have so many theatre companies near by. Take in a show or two, or three. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ali v Frazier I: 11th and 15th Rounds

Remarkable Moments In A Remarkable Fight

by Bobby Franklin

This coming March 8th will mark the 46th anniversary of the first Ali vs Frazier fight, The Fight of the Century. It will also be the first time the date will arrive with both men now having passed on. Rewatching this great fight it is hard to believe neither Joe or Muhammad is still with us. That night in Madison Square Garden they both appeared to be immortal. It was as if two ancient gods had stepped down from their mountains to do battle for control of the universe.

I am surprised how their third encounter has taken most of the spotlight over the years. While that was a great brawl, both men had lost much, if not most, of their great skills. The first bout was the only time in history when two undefeated men with legitimate claims to the Heavyweight Championship met to settle things. The fight lived up to all of the hype and even more. I truly believe the fight would be given more notice if Ali had won, and that is the reason the third fight is so often shown. The Ali publicity machine never stopped working while Joe Frazier slipped into a quiet retirement. It is too bad because their first meeting was one of the greatest fights and greatest sporting events of all time. It should be shown every March 8th. Fortunately, it can be seen on Youtube, and boxing fans should take an hour on the anniversary to watch it.

I have written about the fight on a number of occasions. Each time I watch it I see something new. Each time I watch it I am still in awe of what a battle of wills it was. Each time I watch it I am in disbelief of how these two men were able to hold up for fifteen rounds at such a torrid pace.

Today, as I reflect back on that night, I want to focus in on a couple of moments from that war. These occurred in the 11th and 15th rounds, and I would like to share my thoughts with my readers.

When the bell rang for the 11th round both fighters appeared to be slowing down. Ali was content to stay on the ropes and Joe was not landing with the same power he had been displaying over the pervious 10 rounds. The fight seemed to be losing its intensity and that was no surprise seeing the pace these two had set. Well, that was about to change.

With about a minute left in the round, Ali was on the ropes near a corner. Frazier had landed a couple of left hooks on Ali’s chin, but not with full force. Then it happened, Joe let a hook rip that caught Ali and buckled his legs. Muhammad attempted to get out of the corner and stepped to his right with Frazier in pursuit. This is a key moment in the fight and if things had gone slightly different would have most likely been the end of the bout.

As Ali moved along the ropes trying to escape from Joe, Frazier landed a powerful left hook to Muhammad’s jaw. Ali fell backwards and his arms swung back and away from his body. He was wide open to be hit at will. He was hurt and off balance. So why didn’t Joe follow up?

Watch this moment in the fight and you will see why. There are a couple of different views of it, but all clearly show what happened. After Joe landed that brutal shot and Ali’s legs buckled it appeared he was going down, and indeed he would have. Joe seeing him start to go down stepped away to head for a neutral corner. What then happened is that as Ali was on the way down his backside caught one of the ropes and held him up. Joe looked over as he was walking away and immediately rushed back to Ali. By this time Muhammad had righted himself and had his hands back in position. If Joe had not believed Ali was going down he could have landed at will and very likely ended the contest. In boxing, seconds and fractions of seconds make a difference, and it certainly did in this case. Frazier pummeled Ali for the remainder of the round. He staggered him a couple of more times, but he could not finish him off.

The 15th round produced another amazing moment in a night of great moments. In what is perhaps the most famous knockdown in boxing history, Joe dropped Muhammad with a tremendous left hook early in the round. Ali went down flat on his back. It looked as if the fight was over. However, in what seemed like a miracle, Ali not only got up but rose almost immediately. How was he able to regain his feet after absorbing such a shot? Both men were beyond exhausted. Ali was caught flush on the jaw by one of the hardest left hooks ever thrown. Or was he?

Ali used to brag that he had a built in radar that could detect punches that were about to hit him so he could avoid them at the last second. His radar was working here. He was not able to avoid the punch, but if you watch closely as the blow connects you will see Ali moving his head as the punch makes contact with him. Basically, he, to some degree, rolled with the punch. It was still a brutal shot, but it would have been much worse had he not moved the way he did. It is amazing his mind and body were still able to respond in that manner seeing how grueling the fight had been.

I remember seeing Arthur Mercante, the referee for the fight, interviewed once. When questioned about the 15th round he said he felt the men were so tired that he feared he might push one or the other over while breaking a clinch. It just shows how much Ali and Frazier drove themselves in this battle of wills.

I once had a chance to talk with Arthur Mercante. I asked him how much he got paid for officiating that night. He told me he received $500.00. When I said it didn’t seem like much he turned to me and with a big smile said, “I would have done it for nothing.”

This March 8th take an hour to watch this fight. Do it to honor two great athletes. Do it to remember what boxing once was.

NEW REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS

GOLDA’S BALCONY

BY WILLIAM GIBSON DIRECTED BY JUDY BRAHA

MARCH 25-APRIL 16, 2017

New Repertory Theatre presents Golda’s Balcony, March 25-April 16, 2017 in the Mainstage Theater at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA.

“As one of the first democratically elected female heads of state, Golda Meir’s historic rise cannot be understated,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “Golda’s Balcony is a cornerstone in a season we’ve entitled Prologue, as we look back through history to inform the present. At a time when our current political environment is in flux and America’s standing on the world stage is at a critical juncture, it is illuminating to produce plays that continue to examine today through the lens of the past.”

Bobbie Steinbach

“New Rep is thrilled to welcome back Bobbie Steinbach to our stage after appearing in a number of productions over the years including most recently our smash-hit revival of Fiddler on the Roof last December,” says Managing Director Harriet Sheets. “Bobbie brings with her a creative energy that is unmatched in the Greater Boston theatre community, and we welcome all to join us for our much- anticipated production of Golda’s Balcony this spring.”

Golda’s Balcony follows Golda Meir from her humble beginnings as a Wisconsin school teacher to her meteoric rise through Israel’s early political system, becoming one of the world’s first elected female heads of state and one of the most influential women in Israel’s history.

Tickets are $30-$59 and may be purchased by calling the New Rep Box Office at 617-923-8487 or visiting newrep.org. Student, senior, and group discounts are available.

Kisses and Laughter Aplenty At The Lyric

Stage Kiss

The Lyric Stage

140 Clarendon St. Boston
Through March 26th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss now playing at the Lyric Stage is two plays within a play that centers on the problems that arise when former lovers are cast opposite each other in a revival of a 1930s melodrama, The Last Kiss, which is also about two former lovers.

Make no mistake, this play is very funny.

He (Alexander Platt) and She (Celeste Oliva) the former lovers who haven’t seen each other in over ten years are brought together when trying out for roles in a revival of a 1930s Noel Coward style play The Last Kiss. Sexual tension immediately arises as old passions become inflamed. She, who is now married and has a daughter while He is in a relationship with a woman from either Iowa or Illinois (you’ll understand when you see it), don’t take long to act on their desires.

Will McGarrahan, Celeste Oliva, Michael Hisamoto (Photo: Mark S. HowardMake no mistake, this play is very funny. Ms Oliva, as She, is a positive riot as she reads for the part in front of director Adrian Schwalbach (Will McGarrahan). It is her first time trying out for a production in years and Oliva plays the part with a frenetic humor that conveys She’s self doubt. I couldn’t help but think this might not be much of an exaggeration of what many actors have been through. Mr. McGarrahan as Schwalbach is the perfect straight man. His timing is excellent as he knows just when to deliver a line or a look to allow the lines to sink in. I have seen him in a number of productions and he as yet to disappoint.

Alexander Platt and Celeste Oliva. (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

He is played by Alexander Platt. He, shallow and self centered, lives just in the moment. He seems not at all concerned with the fact that She is married and has a child. At first this doesn’t seem important as the laughs keep coming and it is amazing to see the set for The Last Kiss come together as the action moves along. The play begins with an almost bare stage that evolves into a beautiful setting with lovely costumes. It is magical to see as it happens bit by bit while the lights are dimmed.

Director Courtney O’Connor also plays a bit with the audience on when intermission is about to start. It is all fun and a nice touch.

In Act II things begin to falter a bit. The Last Kiss has been a flop and now He and She are teaming up with Adrian in a new play he has written and is producing in Detroit. She has left her husband Harrison (Craig Matthers) and her daughter Angela (Theresa Nguyen) to be with He. He’s former girlfriend Laurie (Gillian Mackay-Smith) and Harrison have taken up with each other. Angela’s reaction to all of this is not hurt but anger that doesn’t seem all that real. She also seems quite self centered.

And this is why things don’t quite work in the second act. While there are plenty of funny situations, we are still seeing a marriage torn apart and a child whose mother has walked out on her. I never got the sense anybody really was feeling much pain about all that had happened. Towards the end Craig Mathers gives a very moving and well done monologue about marriage that feels out of place as he appears to be the only one who grasps what has really happened. The lines he delivers include “Marriage is about repetition. Every night the sun goes down and the moon comes up and you have another chance to be good. Romance is not about repetition.” Beautiful words, and while She does go back with him, I don’t believe it is the words that have moved her. Her shallowness still rings through. Without an emotional investment in the characters it is hard to feel much even when listening to these lovely words so well delivered by Mr. Mathers.

Will McGarrahan, Celeste Oliva, Alexander Platt, Michael Hisamoto. (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

Now, I do have to say something here about Michael Hisamoto who plays a number of parts including the Kevin the understudy in The Last Kiss and a pimp in the play in Detroit. Mr. Hisamoto almost steals this production. He is positively hilarious in his scenes with Ms Oliva in Act 1. Their kissing scene is side splitting funny. Every time he steps onto the stage you can feel his energy. His presence is subtle but very strong. He can elicit laughter with just a sidewards glance. He is a very talented young actor and I hope we get to see more of him soon.

Mr. Hisamoto almost steals this production

Stage Kiss may have some flaws, but it is still a production worth seeing. It is refreshing to sit in a theater and laugh. It is nice in this very heated political era to be able to step away from all the arguing and be able to escape for a couple of hours. Theatre plays many roles in our society. Some of it is political. But it is also important that it gives us a break from the anxieties that creep into our lives. Stage Kiss does that.

Stage Kiss

by Sarah Ruhl

Directed by Courtney O’Connor

Lyricstage.com

A Moving Look At The Challenges Of Being Kind

Grand Concourse

SpeakEasy Stage

Through April 1st

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

You will be deeply moved by what you see.

The SpeakEasy production of Grand Concourse by Heidi Schreck now playing at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston’s South End is one of those truly wonderful theatre experiences that touches on so many emotions.

Oscar, Shelly, Emma, and Frog.
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

There are four characters in this play that takes place in the food preparation area of a soup kitchen in the Bronx. As the play progresses the depth and struggles of each of these individuals becomes more apparent. It is impossible to watch this work and not become emotionally invested in each one of them.

Shelly, played by Melinda Lopez, is the Catholic nun who runs the kitchen. She is committed to her work but is having doubts about her faith and purpose. She practices praying while using a microwave timer. Shelly is a kind and compassionate human being, but is that enough and  what does it mean to be compassionate? Melinda Lopez brings depth and warmth to Shelly. I felt I had known her for years.

One day Emma, a college drop out, stops by and offers to volunteer. At first she seems like a young person who wants to do something good, but as the play progresses we see there is much more going on with her. Played by the very talented Ally Dawson, Emma is very manipulative and makes things quite difficult for the others. She also accomplishes much good while pushing the others to the limits of their compassion. Ms Dawson handles this very complex character perfectly. It is an emotional roller coaster watching her, and I have to say I felt drained by her actions. However, it  me feel good in the sense that I was forced to look more deeply into someone whom it would have been very easy to write off as superficial and self absorbed.

Frog and Oscar
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Thomas Derrah plays Frog a homeless man who has been a regular at the soup kitchen for some time. In between telling and selling jokes to the others, he also spins his philosophy on life and insights into people and society. I have seen Mr. Derrah perform for more years than I would like to admit, and I have to say it would be a challenge to find an actor who can match him for how consistently good he is. He certainly does not disappoint here. He makes many entrances and exits in the course of this production and each one is fresh and outstanding.

Oscar, played by Alejandro Simoes, is the maintenance man. He is funny and kind. Oscar was a dental student in his native Dominican Republic and is now struggling to put a life together in the United States and marry his girlfriend Rosa. At first he appears to be a fairly light character, but Mr. Simoes treats us to a man who has weaknesses and conflict but is filled with decency. He truly touches us with his goodness.

Shelly and Emma
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Grand Concourse easily could have been a very predictable and formulaic work about people helping people and getting caught up with the conflicts in their own lives. At first I thought that’s where it was going. What author Heidi Schreck has given us is a play that goes much deeper than that. I was very moved by this play. It compelled me to ask  what it means to have compassion and what the limits are to it. The Catholic social activist Dorothy Day once said her purpose was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Well, it’s not always easy to tell who is afflicted and who is comfortable.

The SpeakEasy Stage has done it again and this is a play not to be missed.

I have to admit I left the theatre emotionally spent. It was an amazing afternoon watching terrific actors working with a fine script that was well directed and staged beautifully. I highly recommend Grand Concourse. The SpeakEasy Stage has done it again and this is a play not to be missed. You will be deeply moved by what you see.

Grand Concourse

Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary

Through April 1st

The SpeakEasy Stage
At The Calderwood Pavillon
South End, Boston

speakeasystage.com

617.933.8600

When Heavyweights Ruled

 Jerry Izenberg Recalls The Time And Excitement

Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age Of Heavyweight Boxing

Skyhorse Publishing, NY, NY

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

From the time of John L. Sullivan and through most of the 20th Century being the Heavyweight Champion of the World meant being the stuff of legends. It was as close to immortality as any man could get. Young boys would dream of growing up and one day being the next Jack Dempsey or Joe Louis. To hold that great title also meant being arguably the most famous man in the world. It is impossible to recall the Roaring Twenties without thinking of Dempsey. The 30s and 40s always have Joe Louis’s visage looking at us from that time of the Great Depression and WWII. As America got back to work after the War we had Rocky Marciano to remind us of the value of hard work and perseverance. In between each of these great champions were other great men who left their own mark on the history of boxing. The Heavyweight Championship was the most difficult to attain and most prestigious honor to capture in all of sports and I would argue in any realm of the world of entertainment.

It is sad that today it is just a memory. That great title no longer exists. Oh, there are people, a lot of them, who claim it but none who have earned it. I doubt there are any young men today who wake up in the morning with that dream their grandfathers and fathers had of being the Champ. Those days are far behind us, but they didn’t go away without a fight.

The final era when the Heavyweight Title still meant something was also one of its most exciting, Jerry Izenberg in his new book Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age Of Heavyweight Boxing (Skyhorse Publishing, NY,NY) brings us back to that very exciting time.

If you were fortunate enough to have experienced boxing from the 1960s until the late 1980s Jerry’s book will bring back terrific memories of what may have been the most competitive period in the history of boxing among the big men. Mr. Izenberg argues it was, and he is standing on solid ground when he says so. It was certainly a very exciting time to be a fight fan.

In a lively narrative Mr. Izenberg brings us to ringside and into the backrooms to visit with the fighters to relive many great moments.

As background Mr. Izenberg chronicles the rise and fall of the mob that took place from the 1930s up until the 1960s. We are introduced or reintroduced, depending on your age, to such characters as Owney Madden, Frankie Carbo, Jim Norris, Blinky Palermo, and many other gangsters who controlled boxing for decades. It is a sordid history of corruption and strong arm tactics and very worth reading.

After Rocky Marciano retired, the Heavyweight Championship fell into a sorry state. Cus D’Amato who had crusaded against mob control of boxing was able to take hold of the title with his young fighter Floyd Patterson. Mr. Izenberg sheds a lot of light on the real D’Amato who, it turns out, had his own mob connection. D’Amato also made it even more difficult for legitimate contenders to get a shot at the title because he was not going to allow his champion to step into the ring with any opponent who had a pulse. At least with the old mob a fighter could buy his way in. With D’Amato the division went into a period where having talent only increased a fighter’s chances of not getting a title fight.

Ironically, it took the underworld figure Sonny Liston to change things, though it took someone else to shake up the world of boxing. When Sonny won the title by destroying Patterson boxing epitaphs were being written. Boxing had gone from a mama’s boy to a man who was pure evil. It didn’t look like it could sink any further.

This is where Jerry’s book goes from the darkness to the glory times. A young Cassius Clay had returned from the Rome Olympics waving his Gold Medal and proclaiming himself “The Greatest”. He stepped up and whupped Sonny and began a new age in boxing. An age Jerry Izenberg was there to witness from beginning to end.

In a lively narrative Mr. Izenberg brings us to ringside and into the backrooms to visit with the fighters to relive many great moments. When Clay, now Ali, became champion he fought everyone. Of course, a number of these contenders had grown old waiting for a title shot, but they were no longer going to be denied. Ali fought often and was always heard from. He was loved and hated, and he was exciting. Boxing was now back in a big way, and Mr. Izenberg brings it all alive again.

As Ali was mowing down the old line of contenders a whole new crop was sprouting up. While none seemed an immediate threat to Ali, it was going to get interesting. Well, it did get interesting when Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to be inducted into the Army. With Ali sitting on the sidelines the heavyweight division still blossomed as many of the young prospects developed into serious contenders. By the time Ali returned to the ring boxing was a whole new picture. It had certainly become much more competitive and even more exciting.

Jerry Izenberg follows these events up until the implosion of Mike Tyson when it can be said heavyweight boxing was breathing its last. We are there for the three Ali v Frazier fights. The Foreman destruction of Frazier as well as Ken Norton’s win over and two controversial losses to Ali. And the rise of Larry Holmes, a fighter who never got the respect he deserved.

Mr. Izenberg’s insights are terrific, and his chapter on the Holmes v Cooney fight is particularly interesting. The racial overtones that fight took on were a sad episode, but it is good to know they were not shared by the fighters.

There are also many behind the scenes stories about the rise and fall of Mike Tyson that include one very personal moment the author had with the future champ as well as the story of Teddy Atlas’s break with D’Amato and Tyson. Boxing fans will love this.

And if that isn’t enough, Jerry takes you to the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project in St. Louis for a visit with Michael Spinks. The visit took place at midnight in the notorious project and it took plenty of courage for Jerry to show up. It does result in a very interesting story.

Jerry Izenberg and Ali

If you want to know what competitive boxing is like. If you want to know what it is like to have evenly matched contenders fighting for the title. If you want to get a taste of the electricity that would fill the air all across the country when the Heavyweight Championship was on the line you will find it in Once There Were Giants. It’s unfortunate it will never be seen again.

Throwin’ The Cards At The Huntington

TopDog/Underdog

Through April 9th

Huntington Theatre Company

 

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Matthew J. Harris and Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Two African American brothers named Lincoln and Booth are sharing a one room flat. Lincoln has left his wife, or she has left him. Booth has taken him in and he is sleeping on the recliner. By day Lincoln plays Abraham Lincoln at the local arcade where people can pay for the privilege of assassinating him. “It’s a good sit down job with benefits.” Booth makes his way by boosting (shoplifting), and he is good at it.

Harris and Henderson are perfect together. They never miss a beat with their timing and movement. Both are a pleasure to watch.

In Topdog/Underdog now playing at the Huntington Theatre in Boston we see the two brothers as they deal with the cards they have been handed. In this case the cards are from a deck used for playing Three Card Monte, a slight of hand game used to hustle people out of money. Lincoln used to be very good at the game, one of the best, but gave it up after seeing a close friend shot to death by a disgruntled loser. Booth wants to learn how to be good at it and have the two of them team up and make a fortune. A life Lincoln does not want to return to, or at least he is trying to convince himself he doesn’t want to.

Tyrone Mitchell Henderson and Matthew J. Harris (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

In the course of what seems to be a pretty basic story about two brothers making the best of what they have there are plenty of laughs. The quick banter between the two, Lincoln (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) and Booth (Matthew J. Harris), is sharp and funny. There is a scene where Booth does a striptease taking off layer after layer of clothing he has boosted, providing two classy suits, one for himself and one for his brother. Matthew J. Harris has all the moves in a dance that seems it will never end, nor do we want it to.

While there are plenty of laughs, as things progress we begin to see the pain the two are in. Frustration, discouragement, loneliness, and anger all begin to show slowly and painfully. Lincoln, who is five years the elder, repeats how lucky he is to have his job so many times that it becomes clear he is trying to convince himself of it. He keeps resisting the temptation to go back to “throwin’ the cards”, but finally succumbs when he is replaced by a wax dummy at the arcade.

The banter and the hand movement makes you want to throw your money down and find where the black card has landed.

The two were abandoned by their parents when they were 16 and 11 years old but were each given a small inheritance. They also have a photo album that they, or at least Booth, keeps up to date. The brothers also talk about their parents quite a bit. It was not exactly a stable environment to be raised in, and they haven’t been left with a lot of options.

As I have written, this is a very funny play, but when the darkness reveals itself it is deep and painful. It is tragic watching Lincoln and Booth working with their very limited options. They do what most people end up doing when they are up against the wall; they return to what they know how to do. Unfortunately, that is not much of a choice for either of them.

Matthew J. Harris is fast, sharp, and fluid as Booth. He is filled with energy as he moves about the stage and talks about his future with his girlfriend Grace.

Tyrone Mitchell Henderson and Matthew J. Harris (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Tyronne Mitchell Henderson as Lincoln is subtle yet commanding on stage. His voice and movements convey wisdom and conflict; hope and much pain. Watching him show Booth how to set up a Three Card Monte scam is captivating. The banter and the hand movement makes you want to throw your money down and find where the black card has landed

Harris and Henderson are perfect together. They never miss a beat with their timing and movement. Both are a pleasure to watch.

Director Billy Porter has set the play, written by Suzan-Lori Parks, on a stage that is not time specific. It is a reminder of just how long people have struggled under such circumstances, and of how strong the pain is of trying to make it in life when the bottom rungs of the ladder have been removed. For all of the laughs and good natured back and forth in this work, you will leave the theatre wondering why things have to be this way and what can be done to prevent it from happening. People have many different answers. The trick is in finding the right ones.

Topdog/Underdog

by Suzan-Lori Parks

Directed by Billy Porter

Now through April 9thThe Huntington Theatre Company

Avenue of the Arts

BU Theatre

264 Huntington Ave., Boston

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NEW REPERTORY THEATRE ANNOUNCES 2017-2018 SEASON: RESILIENCE

 IDEATION, OLEANNA, MAN OF LA MANCHA, UNVEILED, STATEMENTS, LONELY PLANET, RIPE FRENZY,
THE BAKELITE MASTERPIECE, TWO JEWS WALK INTO A WAR

Johnny Lee Davenport

Featuring nine productions, New Rep’s 2017-2018 season includes Ideation, a dark satirical comedy and Boston-area premiere; Oleanna, David Mamet’s groundbreaking drama, featuring Johnny Lee Davenport; Man of La Mancha, a revival of the Tony award-winning musical, featuring Maurice Emmanuel Parent; Unveiled, a one-woman show written and performed by Rohina Malik and co- produced with Stoneham Theatre; Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, and engaging political drama by Athol Fugard; Lonely Planet, an evocative social drama by Steven Dietz; Ripe Frenzy, a site-specific drama and Boston-area premiere; The Bakelite Masterpiece, a riveting historical drama and Boston-area premiere; and Two Jews Walk into a War…, a hilarious existential comedy featuring Jeremiah Kissel.

Jeremiah Kissel

“The plays in our 2017-2018 season will showcase the remarkable resilience of the human spirit,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “Theatre has the power to shed light in dark times, to illuminate and stimulate thought, and to provide a forum for us to come together as a community in conversation. It is our hope that these plays will inspire and engage as New Repertory Theatre continues to be a place where the vital ideas of our time can be discussed freely and openly.”

“Our 2016-2017 season was one of our most successful ever, and we owe a great amount of that success to our patrons,” says Managing Director Harriet Sheets. “We heard from so many audiences members throughout the year and

their passion and enthusiasm for our productions and mission was clear. It is because of that support that the Boston Globe recently called us ‘a potent force,’ and so we’re pleased to share another extraordinary lineup in 2017-2018.”

MainStage Theater & BlackBox Theater | Mosesian Center for the Arts 321 Arsenal Street | Watertown, MA 02472

617-923-8487 newrep.org

The Venerable Ogunquit Playhouse Celebrates its 85th Anniversary Season with a North American Premiere, a World Premiere, a Global Sensation and Broadway Hit Shows!

Ogunquit Playhouse

The Ogunquit Playhouse, one of the Northeast’s cultural jewels and a cornerstone of America’s theatrical heritage, is celebrating its 85th Anniversary Season, and, true to its legacy, the 2017 season will be filled with the newest and brightest musicals, world and national premieres and a timeless classic, all complete with top-notch professional casts and creative teams direct from Broadway, Los Angeles, and London. The milestone season runs from May 17 to October 29 and will feature the American and the world premieres of two brand-new musicals, From Here to Eternity and Heartbreak Hotel. It also includes one of the biggest international hit sensations of all time, Mamma Mia!, which will run for an unprecedented seven weeks. Rounding out the 2017 season are Bullets Over Broadway, the delightful and hilarious musical based on the acclaimed Woody Allen film, and Ragtime, one of the most powerful musicals ever adapted for the stage. The season will stretch to the holidays once again with the return of the hit show White Christmas in collaboration with The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

“As we enter our 85th Anniversary Season, we are very focused on the legacy we are proud to preserve and its future so that it endures for generations to come. We are thrilled to bring a mix of pure entertainment along with some of the most compelling stories ever created for the stage, including two exciting new shows to American audiences,” said Ogunquit

Playhouse Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney. “This year seems to be the perfect time to share one of the greatest stories ever adapted for the stage, Ragtime. With its beautiful score, it tells the emotional story of three families set against the turmoil and swiftly changing culture of early twentieth century America, when immigrant families were striving to find their place in a new world. Heartbreak Hotel tells the story of a young Elvis Presley and the groundbreaking music he brought to the popular culture during the height of the civil rights movement. It is a true rags to riches tale set within a time period when America was once again challenged with changing times. And, we are so very honored to be working with the great Tim Rice on the development of his musical adaptation of one of the most influential World War II stories, From Here to Eternity.”

10 Main Street (Rte 1)Ogunquit, ME 03907 207.646.5511
ogunquitplayhouse.org

The Fighting Kessler Brothers

By Mike Silver

The ultimate goal of every professional boxer is to win a world title, but running a close second is the opportunity to be featured in a main event at the world’s most famous sports arena—Madison Square Garden. During the Golden Age of boxing, from the 1920s to the 1950s, the honor of topping a card in “the Garden” was an achievement to be savored for the rest of a boxer’s life.

A brief historical note: There have been four Madison Square Gardens. The first dates to the late 1870s. But the building that is most synonymous with boxing’s glory days—and the one most fondly remembered by those who experienced it—was the third version that occupied an entire block on New York’s Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets. Garden III stood as a monument to the sport from 1925 to 1967. It was demolished in 1968 and replaced by the current Madison Square Garden located 16 blocks south at 33rd street and Seventh Avenue.

Gaining entry into boxing’s holy of holies was a privilege not easily attained. Certain standards had to be met. Even the undercard boxers had to have records that warranted an invitation. Boxers who fought main events in other arenas might only qualify for a six round preliminary or eight round semi-final in the Garden. To appear in the featured bout of the evening was equivalent to starring in a Broadway theatrical production.

Because of the arena’s status, and the importance of boxing to the popular culture at that time, the result of a Garden main event made news throughout the world. For every boxer lucky enough to appear in a Garden main event the knowledge that a good showing—win or lose—could mean an invitation back and another good payday spurred them to put forth their best effort.

On the night of August 9th, 1946 Ruby Kessler, a 19 year old welterweight out of Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood, was prepared to do just that.

Ruby Kessler

Ruby’s journey to a featured bout at the world’s most famous arena began three years earlier when he knocked out Ray Ramirez in the first round at the Fort Hamilton arena in Brooklyn. It was an auspicious beginning for the 135 pound boxer. Ruby had followed his older brother Milton into the ring. In fact, on the same night that Ruby scored his first pro victory Milton fought in the main event.

Milt Kessler had turned pro in 1939 and quickly established a reputation as one of the finest young boxers in New York City. He was a classic stand up boxer with quick hands and agile footwork. The Kessler brothers were part of a grand boxing tradition. Jewish boxers were an integral part of the boxing scene, having produced hundreds of title contenders and 29 world champions from the early 1900s to the late 1930s. They hoped to become the second set of Jewish brothers to win world titles. The first were Abe and Monte Attell who ascended to their thrones at the turn of the last century.

Milt Kessler

Milt compiled an impressive 31-4-2 won-lost-draw record before he was drafted into the Army in 1943. He was one of 4000 American professional boxers who served in the armed forces during World War II.

After being discharged from the army in 1946 Milt decided not to continue his boxing career. By that time Ruby had graduated from preliminary boxer to main bout status. He began the year by winning six in a row before dropping an eight round decision to Patsy Brandino at the Queensboro Arena. But just sixteen days later Ruby scored his most impressive victory by coming off the floor to stop veteran Pat Scanlon in the 7th round of a ten rounder at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. That victory earned him his first Garden main event. His opponent was Greenwich Village’s tough Tony Pellone. A few months earlier Pellone had scored a major upset by ending Billy Graham’s 58 bout undefeated streak via a controversial ten round decision.

Pellone and Kessler had similar records and were evenly matched but Pellone had an advantage: He was a mob managed fighter. As a “connected” fighter there was always the possibility that the fight judges and the referee would be under orders not to vote for his opponent if the bout went the distance. The day before the fight the odds favored Pellone at 9 to 5. By fight time the odds had increased to 11 to 5 on Pellone. There was no reason for this unless word had gotten out that the fix was in and Pellone could not lose.
In a rousing see-saw fight that the New York Times described as “a bruising battle that held the interest of the crowd right to the final bell” Pellone won a split decision that was greeted with boos by a majority of the fans in attendance.

Irving Kessler, Ruby’s younger brother, believes the decision was preordained. In an interview with the writer he offered as proof the referee’s telling Ruby after the fight, “Sorry Ruby, the best I could give you was a draw”. There is no question the fight was very close but in the end the two judges scored it 5-4-1 for Pellone, with the referee voting a draw. It should not surprise anyone with knowledge of boxing history that the decision might have been fixed. Professional boxing in the 1940s and 1950s was heavily infiltrated by mob elements and fixed fights were not uncommon.

Less than six weeks later Ruby knocked out Pat Foley in the first round. Over the next two months he outpointed Pat Scanlon in ten and finished out the year by stopping former contender Cleo Shans in three. Those victories earned Kessler a second Garden main event. On January 17, 1947, in front of 14,000 fans, Ruby crossed gloves with master boxer Billy Graham. An interesting sidelight to the fight was that both men were trained by Whitey Bimstein. As a result Bimstein decided not to work in either boxer’s corner.

Ruby Kessler and Billy Graham

The Graham bout was the most important fight of Ruby’s career. Graham was a highly regarded welterweight contender. Fortunately he was not a mob managed fighter so if the fight went the distance a fair decision would be expected.
A victory over Graham would put Ruby in line for a title shot. But it wasn’t to be. Although every round was closely contested the difference came down to Graham’s vast experience (he had twice as many fights as Kessler). Graham’s accurate counterpunching and superb defensive skills gave him the edge, but Ruby never stopped trying and when tagged would fight back even harder.

Ruby lost the decision but impressed the critics with his tenacity and toughness. Writing for the New York Times, James P. Dawson praised Kessler’s performance: “The Coney Island youngster is one of the most courageous fighters in the welterweight class today and a lad who is dangerous even when staggering around the ring groggily under fire. In ten rounds that sizzled with superb boxing and sparkled with sharp, solid hitting, Graham received the unanimous decision.”

In his next bout Kessler was stopped in the 7th round by lightweight contender Juste Fontaine. Fritzie Zivic, the ex-welterweight champ who was known for his foul tactics, trained Fontaine. He schooled his protégée well in the art of dirty fighting. Kessler was ahead in the scoring but during the bout was repeatedly fouled. Punches below the beltline, hitting with an open glove, thumbing and butting were taking a toll. The bout took place in Philadelphia, Fontaine’s hometown. The referee, obviously favoring the hometown favorite, issued a few warnings but would not disqualify or deduct points from Fontaine. In the seventh round a weakened Kessler was backed against the ropes and taking punishment when the referee intervened and stopped the bout. As the fighters left the ring Ruby’s brothers Milt and Freddy confronted Zivic and an argument ensued. Several punches were exchanged before security stepped in and broke it up.

Ruby was disappointed by the losses but not deterred. Over the next 19 months he fought 16 times. His most notable opponents included former contender Bobby Ruffin (WD-8, Draw-10), former junior welterweight champion Tippy Larkin (LD-8, LD -10) and eighth rated welterweight Charley Fusari (LD-10).

On October 11, 1948 Ruby was knocked out for only the second time in his 57 bout career when he was stopped in the first round by welterweight contender Tony Janiro. Although he was only three weeks shy of his 22nd birthday the loss convinced Ruby it was time to hang up his gloves.

Irving Kessler is 88 years old. He is the only surviving member of the Kessler clan (originally seven brothers and one sister). Irving remembers how proud he was to carry his older brother’s equipment bag to the gym. He attended almost all of Ruby’s fights and recalls “a fearless boxer who would take on anyone. Whereas Milt was a pure boxer who was often compared to the great Benny Leonard, Ruby was a fighter who rarely took a backward step and didn’t mind mixing it up if the situation called for it. He was an excellent boxer and puncher and if you were not a title contender or champ you couldn’t get by Ruby.”

Ruby Kessler left the sport just as television was beginning to mass market boxing to millions of new fans. No doubt his all action style of fighting would have made him a very popular TV boxer.

Following his retirement Ruby partnered with his brother Milt and opened a bar in Brooklyn. Two years later they ran into financial problems and Ruby decided to pick up a payday by fighting again. On December 23, 1950, at the Ridgewood Grove Arena in Brooklyn, Ruby was holding his own against journeyman Joey Carkido when he suffered a deep gash over his left eye that caused the referee to stop the fight in the 6th round. He never fought again. His final stats were 38-17-2. He knocked out 17 opponents and was KO’d 3 times.

In 1955 Ruby handed the bar over to his brother and took a full time job as a sales representative for a liquor company.

Back in the days when boxing was still boxing not everyone got to be a world champion. There was a definite hierarchy of boxing talent and generally eight champions (today there are over 100) for each of the eight (now 17) weight classes. In that unforgiving environment to be competitive with the best took an extra measure of character and talent. Despite never having won a title Ruby Kessler measured up to the task and was an indispensable part of boxing’s greatest generation.

Mike Silver is the author of Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing (2016, Lyons Press) and The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science (McFarland Publishers, 2008).

Research assistance was provided by Irving Kessler.

Frazier vs Ellis 1970

Jimmy Showed Incredible Courage

by Bobby Franklin