Sunday, April 7, 2019

Review of Requiem for a Heavyweight at The Artistic Home

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Requiem for a Heavyweight. It was by Rod Serling and it was directed by John Mossman. It was about a heavyweight champion who went by "Mountain" (Mark Pracht) who had been told he needed to retire because his body was getting too many injuries and he would go blind if he continued in boxing. He tries to get into another line of work, but of course it is not so easy to get a day job when all you have done your whole life is boxing. His manager Maish (Patrick Thornton) wants him to keep fighting, no matter how much it hurts him, and he has started betting on him to lose, so no matter what he can profit off him. Army (Todd Wojcik) tries to be the voice of reason, but Maish won't listen to him. Mountain finds an unexpected ally in Grace (Annie Hogan), who tries to help him find a new job. It is about masculinity, what makes someone deserving of love, and people taking advantage of people at their most vulnerable times. I thought this was an effective play with a great cast and compelling visuals.

The synchronized movement and sound sequences reminded me of more contemporary shows that use percussive dancing like Stomp. The actors are on stage and doing these sequences during transitions. The rhythm was coming from boxing gloves hitting the punch mitts and punching bags and also occasionally from their voices. The sequences would also emphasize moments that had happened in previous scenes, like when Perelli (John LaFlamboy), the wrestling promoter, was beginning to show his true colors. In the transition following you could see him laughing to himself in a maniacal fashion while the men on the sidelines where aggressively punching as background to his cackling. Perelli was very well played. He was very disconcerting and LaFlamboy made him very memorable. He reminded me of a toned-down Joker. His crimes were less deadly, but executed in a similarly wickedly gleeful way.

Violence and how it is tied to masculinity is a very big element of this show. This play was set in the 1950s and though this production features some actors of color in minor roles, it still felt like a very white play mainly concerned with the problems of white men. So it is not representing nonwhite masculinity to any extent. Mountain is an example of innocent, oblivious masculinity. He fights because he has been told that is what he is good at. He dropped out of school, so he thinks fighting is all that he is good for. He is oblivious to how violence has hurt him. He sees boxing as his saving grace that helped him find a job and do something with his life, despite the fact that it has destroyed his mind and body. He doesn't seem to have his own mind, but just follows the rules. When he loses his position as a professional boxer, he seems to lose his main source of feeling masculine because he can't take care of himself. The way he used to take care of himself was through the violent act of boxing. I think that Pracht did a great job of capturing the innocence and eventual noble humiliation of Mountain.

Maish's masculinity is very different. He feels very confident and thinks he only needs women for sex if he needs them at all. He doesn't show his emotions, except anger, until the end of the play when he is left alone. His ideas of masculinity conflict with his love for Mountain, because he can't show concern or love because he sees it as unmasculine. His entire profession is centered around violence, even if he doesn't often put himself in harm's way. Army, I think, is the best representation of masculinity because he makes up for Maish's lack of visible affection and concern, or even interest, in Mountain's life outside of boxing. He helps Mountain out in his job search and with his injuries in the ring. He is a nurturing type of man. He understands what is wrong with things and how to stand up to corruption. I think Wojcik did a lovely job of showing the shift between how he acted when Maish was around and when he wasn't. Maish doesn't ask for help so he makes a mess out of Mountain who doesn't know what to do about the mess, so Army picks it up.

People who would like this show are people who like explorations of white masculinity, rhythmic boxing, and wickedly gleeful wrestling promoters. I think this is a compelling story and it has some great performances.

Photos: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

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