Dan Keough and George Tovar
George Tovar and Dan Keough
George Tovar and Michael Harrity
FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT" STILL PACKS A POWERFUL PUNCH FOR 50TH
ANNIVERSARY PRODUCTION AT THEATRE WEST; FESTIVITIES PLANNED; REGULAR
PERFORMANCES START OCTOBER 7
This is the 50th Anniversary year for Requiem for a Heavyweight
by Rod Serling (1924-1975), which originated for television's
Playhouse 90 four years before Serling's most famous creation,
"The Twilight Zone," began airing on CBS. A feature
film version of "Requiem" followed in 1962.
"Requiem" traces the downward spiral of Mountain McClintock,
a heavyweight boxer past his prime. A former contender for heavyweight
champion of the world, he never quite ascended that peak. But
he gamely fought on until now, when the advancing years have taken
their toll on his speed, stamina and physical condition.
He still hopes for the big bout that will restore him to prominence.
What he doesn't know is that his manager, Maish Resnick, will
cruelly betray him. A glimmer of hope arrives for Mountain in
the person of Grace, a social worker assigned to find Mountain
transitional employment, but who also falls for him. But Maish
and a wrestling promoter have their own plans for Mountain…..plans
that may destroy whatever dignity Mountain has left.
Like Clifford Odets' earlier play "Golden Boy," to which
"Requiem" is inevitably compared, Serling's "Requiem"
is a critique of the capitalist system and the callous attitude
with which the talented are consumed by that system for the profits
that their gifts might provide. But unlike Odets, Serling chose
as his central character not a star in the field, but a guy who
never quite made it….somebody with whom the audience might
more readily identify. Also, as a former boxer himself,
Serling could imbue a boxer's story with an authenticity that
Odets could not.
a World War II paratrooper who won a Bronze Star , a Purple Heart
and other medals, began writing in 1947 for the numerous drama
anthologies that existed on TV at that time, especially "The
United States Steel Hour," "Playhouse 90,"
"Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre," and "The
Richard Boone Show." He created a number of TV series, most
famously "The Twilight Zone" and "Night Gallery,'
and wrote several memorable screenplays, including "Planet
of the Apes," "Seven Days In May," "Assault
on a Queen," and "The Man." Serling was an outspoken
liberal and a strong supporter of the American Civil Liberties
Union. He died of a heart ailment in 1975 following a collapse
while mowing his lawn.
is the inaugural production of Chestnuts, a new wing of Theatre
West dedicated to staging revivals of great plays. Longtime Theatre
West member Charlie Mount is the Producing Director of Chestnuts,
which is made possible by a grant from the Lloyd E. Rigler-Lawrence
E. Deutsch Foundation.
Howard Storm directs "Requiem." Following a career as
an A-list comic with appearances on every major TV talk show,
Storm transitioned into directing after assisting Woody Allen
on "Take The Money and Run." Storm directed the
entire first three seasons of "Mork and Mindy" and directed
Jim Carrey in his feature film debut "Once Bitten."
Howard's many, many other directing credits include episodes of
"Everybody Loves Raymond," "ALF," "Major
Dad," and "Full House." He has appeared onstage
at Theatre West as part of the comedy duo Harrington & Storm,
and with the traveling comedy troupe "Yarmy's Army."
Wollenberg, Mick Harrity in
"Requiem For A Heavyweight"
by Bonnie Kalisher and Charlie Mount
Designs by Charlie Mount
'HEAVYWEIGHT' Relaces The Gloves
"In 1955, Rod Serling penned
an elegy to a failed fighter in a corrupt system. When it aired
a a "Playhouse 90" telecast in 1956, "Requiem for
a Heavyweight" made Serling famous and took critics, audiences
and awards organizations to the mat. A similar impact attends
the mounting of this classic by Chestnuts Productions and Theatre
West, centered by Michael Harrity's knockout turn as boxer-on-the-ropes
nearly the world heavy-weight champion, McClintock has hit the
skids. Possbily brain-damaged, prematurely old by his 30s, McClintock
has nothing left but devotion to manager Maish (George Tovar),
a misjudgement of epic proportions. Maish, indebted to gangsters
after betting agasint his own fighter, manipulates the Mountain's
dumb loyalty into exhibition wrestling, which appals trainer Army
(Daniel Keough). What will happen when McClintock realizes how
Maish has used him?
question fuels Serling's narrative, lovingly directed by Howard
Storm. Despite some period dust mites of pace and attitude, the
histrionic punch remains intact. Deisgner Jeff Rack provides excellent
multiple settings, a seamy locker room revealing an Edward Hoppereque
bar with ease.
whose craggy features and power physicallity often sugges John
Wayne, gives a wholly heart-wrenching portrayal. Keough gives
Army old school force, and Tovar exudes nervous oiliness as Maish.
Bruce Liberty, Matthew Hoffman, Lynda Lenet, and Dan Dunn are
other standouts in the noir-flavored cast. At the reviewed performance,
understudy Claire Partin went in for Selah Victor as social worker
Grace. Though Partin's readings are hesitant, her sincerity is
evident, which typifies this two-fisted revival.
Requiem for a Heavyweight at Theatre West
by Joseph Mailander
Theatre West's excursion into the work of Rod Serling this fall
is Requiem for a Heavyweight, the Playhouse 90 classic from 1955,
which opened Friday, October 7, to an enormously appreciative
audience. As with a Serling script itself, there's an abundance
of intelligence behind this production.
intelligence begins with the approaches of director Howard Storm.
Storm as an actor and "A-list comic" thrives on timing
and quick shufflings of mood; as director he handles timing and
mood with special care, inviting actors to bring their own multiple
psychological components to their characters. Most of the actors,
in fact, decided not to reference the Playhouse 90 play at all
while preparing for their parts, but to bring elements of themselves
informed by their own direct reading of the script.
between me and you [the audience], not between me and you and
someone else," Steven Robert Wollenberg, who plays Maish
Resnick, Mountain McClintock's manager, says at the reception
after opening night. The result is a play that jumps from fifty
years ago into today by exploring the text itself with genuine
freshness and vitality. In the end, Storm's production stands
quite apart from its well-known predecessor, even at the moments
when the most memorable scenes from the Playhouse 90 version suddenly
majestic script itself squeezes a little more tightly with every
new scene, and Storm gives it welcome breathing room by playing
up its moments of tenderness and easy humanity, and lets his actors
run with their characters even while retaining a comic's death-grip
on timing. (The gin rummy scene, for instance, is one of the rare
moments of respite where nothing much critical to the plot is
happening, but Storm has invited the actors to play this putative
moment for maximum fun, with an abundant emphasis on timing).
The work of Wollenberg especially, who must as manager locate
many different tempi for his various interactions, assuring his
once-golden boy, arguing with his increasingly contrary trainer,
buying time with menacing thugs, hectoring the doctor with the
bad news, and railing at the empty receiver of the telephone at
characters who never appear, all indicate an intimate exchange
between actor and director.
this is a very well-known play for those of a certain age, I found
myself rushing ahead when certain lines were within sight: I was
wondering how the heavyweight, "Mountain" McClintock,
would mouth the word "clown" for instance. Jack Palance
is at his most pitiable when he slurs the word, plaintively—he's
too hurt to accept it—but Michael Harrity's Mountain remains
a proud man even to this point, and shows the word considerable
contempt. Indeed, Mountain's contempt for his own lot steadily
escalates through the whole second act, as his self-esteem waxes
and wanes and waxes again—when Palance breaks down, he's
a sad and notably empty wretch, but when Harrity's Mountain sobs,
he's simply ashamed, ashamed to be nobody, but he understands
his own shame. It's a great read on the script—whenever
he must confront the clown wrestling gear, we feel the shame crawl
up Mountain's back and lodge itself right underneath the coonskin
as Mountain McClintock, the past-peak boxer from Tennessee who
for the first time begins to ponder life after the ring, a life
which has consumed his whole existential being for fourteen years,
brings an athletic confidence compromised by physical and psychological
uncertainty to his challenging role. (Indeed, the way he manipulates
his body, not only athletically but psychologically, and reveals
his mind through physical contortions reminds one of a young Jeff
Bridges.) He is crisp and confident only when striking boxing
poses—poses that seem to overtake him suddenly, like Tourette's
tics-but forecasts life as a stumblebum when talking to his social
worker or suddenly revolted by his prospects. He is a physical
Janus, caught at the moment between a promising past and a punchdrunk
future, and sudden bursts of physicality exhibit both.
Grace, the social worker who takes a special interest in Mountain,
is played with cautious '50's sexuality by the agreeable and tantalizing
Selah Victor. For her, Mountain is beyond a fascination: he's
a potentially volcanic complement to her fine posture and protective
politesse. Ms. Victor invests in her character a barely-subsumed
longing that makes her presence in any scene vibrant. Having previous
experience with fabled musical theater roles contemporaneous to
Requiem, like Gypsy and Maria in West Side Story, undoubtedly
informs her performance here.
standouts include the moralizing Army, played both smooth and
Runyonesque by Daniel Keough, and Roger Cruz's Perelli, who was
invited to run with a comic take on his lines early on, and provides
ample comic relief in every scene in which he appears. Carlos
Palomino, the one-time welterweight champion who as a boxer was
simply adored in Los Angeles boxing circles, has an entertaining
bit role as Morrell and also provided technical consulting on
boxing to the play. Jeff Rack's set design frames are Hopperesque.
for a Heavyweight is at Theater West, 3333 Cahuenga Boulevard
West (towards the Valley end of the Cahuenga pass). The play runs
through December 10. Call 323-851-7977 for tickets, or visit www.theatrewest.org.
FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT
By Pat Taylor
have only one play to share with you this week, but it is everything
one could hope for in an evening’s theatrical experience!
Entertaining, explosive, touching, well scripted, and acted…this
one packs a powerful punch!
is a gut wrenchingly involving, well directed and produced production
that should fare well for the long respected troupe at Theatre
West. The first offering in a planned series of revivals of great
plays, audiences here are in for some memorable theatre this season.
The next one will be “Lion in Winter” starring Bridget
Hanley (from TV’s “Here Come The Brides” and
Jim Beaver (on the hit series “Deadwood”) opening
in January. Rod Serling’s “Requiem” …is
a hard, cold look at the gritty world of boxing. A heartless,
mercenary business that pits muscle against muscle, while dehumanizing
fighters for the almighty dollar, and discarding them when their
power no longer pays off, this is strong stuff! This is the story
of one such fighter named Mountain McClintock. An aging heavyweight
boxer, and a past contender for the world title, whose strength
and stamina are waning, must brutally face what turns out to be
his last fight.
the examining doctor calls the end of Mountain’s career
in the ring, as his manipulative manager and kindhearted trainer
look on, the story unfolds. Forced to hand up his gloves, his
future is unknown. Once a beloved, well known boxer, and now a
beaten down, jobless, lost soul, this simple man must find his
place in society. The journey is heart tugging and eye opening
in turns, as he searches for the meaning of his life. Michael
Harrity gives a mesmerizing, powerful performance as Mountain!
Focused, painfully sensitive, and achingly raw, we feel his every
pain. As his deceitful and conniving manager, Steven Robert Wollenberg
is despicably dynamic, and as his devoted trainer, Daniel Keough
is flawless. Selah Victor sweetly portrays Grace, the unemployment
office worker who falls for Mountain, and Lynda Lenet is sexy
and sassy as the “hooker with a heart of gold”. Roger
Cruz is delightfully quirky, offering comic relief as a fight
promoter. Too many in cast comment on all, but the entire ensemble
turns out commendable performances!
constantly changing set design by Jeff Rack was quite impressive,
and the detailed and eye appealing costuming by newcomer Rachelle
Luffy was also top notch. Great job by make-up genius Ryan Durling
who unrecognizably transformed the attractive Harrity into the
beaten and battered boxer. This is a daunting and in depth peek
into the underbelly of the boxing game…a world few of us
are familiar with. Do catch this one. It is a knock out!