The Keegan Theatre is doing a production of “Golden Boy” that seeks to represent Odets very faithfully, touching on the war between the starving artist and the financially successful man, and also on an important national issue: the role that fear of poverty played in the early 1930s, when almost all Americans were extremely anxious about money.
Lee Mikeska Gardner directs with a sense of stark realism in keeping with Odets’ style, but the play moves at a medium slow pace, with the result that it often drags, leaving the observer to wonder if absolute fidelity to style is the best way to represent a work written many decades ago.
The play begins in 1934, where a young man named Joe Bonaparte (John Robert Keena) is about to turn 21. A promising musician from a poor family, Bonaparte is also a boxing enthusiast who talks his way into a fight when a manager, Tom Moody (Jim Jorgensen), needs a fighter at the last minute. Keena neatly captures Joe’s anxiety as he struggles to decide whether to be financially independent or to be an artist.
Although Bonaparte is quick on his feet, everyone notices that he holds back. Eventually Joe’s father (Tim Lynch) explains that Joe was an excellent violinist and is worried about hurting his hands. But six months of training finds Joe increasingly able to forget his dream of being a musician and increasingly ready to make significant money in the ring.
There are several sub-plots in “Golden Boy.” The first involves Moody’s girlfriend, Lorna Moon (Susan Marie Rhea), with whom Joe falls in love.
Rhea is taking as the brash New Jersey woman with low self-esteem who doesn’t see herself needing a sincere relationship until she meets Joe. … Keena and Rhea work beautifully together: he is both passionate and vulnerable; she is at once tough and fragile.
Another subplot involves the scheming managers who take over Joe’s life, until his only real friend is his trainer, Tokio, played with understated grace by Chuck Young. Stan Shulman is refreshing as Mr. Carp, the philosophizing family friend. Although he has a very small part, Kevin Hasser is strong as Joe’s brother Frank, a union organizer. The tension between Joe and his father, who wants Joe to become a musician, is convincingly outlined by Keena and Lynch.
… Lighting designer Michael Innocenti provides an effective combination of bright lights for the world of boxing and softer lights for the romantic world inhabited by Joe and Lorna.
There’s not a lot of what would normally be called poetry in “Golden Boy” but there is deeply felt, tough, no-nonsense conversation and expression of feeling. … Keegan Theatre reproduces that talk cleanly, suggesting that if Clifford Odets were alive today, he would probably be sending out his metaphorical messages to the world via the rough-hewn poetry of rap.