Brawler - Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Brawler – Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
Review by James Wilkinson
Brawler by Walt McGough. Produced by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre in collaboration with Kitchen Theatre Company. Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara. Scenic Design: Christina Todesco. Lighting Design: Evey Connerty-Marin. Sound Design: Andrew Duncan Will. Costume Design: Penney Pinette. Movement and Fight Choreographer: Misha Shields.
It all comes back to the Greeks. The culture that gave us the theatrical art form is perhaps also the one that had the noblest intentions with how that art form could be wielded. For the ancient Greeks, theater was a method for examining the societal problems of the day. Audiences of those original tragedies watched the kings and queens on stage making terrible decisions and dealing with the havoc that was then wrecked upon the community. Presenting these issues in a public sphere allowed the audience to ask, “If this is what can happen, then what do we do about it?” Brawler, Walt McGough’s new play, currently being presented at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre in collaboration with Kitchen Theatre Company, uses this ancient model as a jumping off point to examine an issue much closer to our own time period. While you won’t find royalty defying the gods, you will find human failings put under a microscope begging the question: is this truly the path we want to take?
In Brawler, hockey players have replaced the Grecian rulers. Adam (Greg Maraio) is an ex-NHL players whose personal and professional lives are spiraling downward with increasing speed. A one-time brawler on a major team, he’s recently been demoted to the minor leagues. But as we’ll soon learn, that may be the least of his problems. The scene opens on the trashed locker room at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Standing there are Adam’s girlfriend, Trisha, (Gigi Watson) and his friend Jerry, (Marc Pierre), who also works as a security guard at the rink. Jerry has let Adam and Trisha into the rink for a late date night on the ice and is trying to figure out how and why Adam came to destroy the locker room. Adam has now barricaded himself in the bathroom, at first only appearing as an offstage voice. To protect his job, Jerry wants to report Adam’s behavior, which is something Trisha is desperate to prevent from happening. She calls in Odie (Anthony Goes), Adam’s friend and ex-teammate, to try and help calm Adam down and fix the situation without getting anyone in trouble. It’s easier said than done as Adam’s addiction to painkillers and feelings of betrayal drive the plot towards tragedy.
The first thing to say about the production is that there are four really fantastic performances at the heart of it. In particular, both Greg Maraio and Anthony Goes do a great job finding a layer of violence and rage just beneath a very charismatic persona. One moment you’re charmed by a charming, jovial appearance and the next you realize how dangerous the two men could be if pushed too hard. Director M. Bevin O’Gara gives the play a very dynamic staging as battle lines between the characters are drawn and re-drawn. Christina Todesco’s in-the-round set design beautifully plays with the idea of the stage as a sports arena. Or, if you like, with its overhead florescent lighting, it’s almost like a surgery amphitheater, with the action of the play presented for the audience’s scientific inspection.
In his Note from the Playwright, McGough that the impetus for Brawler came from reading Sophocles’ Ajax. That play, in part, examines how soldiers adjust to normal life after having come back from war and I think it’s a really fascinating idea to try to connect this to modern day sporting events. When an athlete is constantly put in situations that require aggressive and often violent behavior, how is that person supposed to adjust to normal life? As well, is the physical abuse athletes put their bodies through for our entertainment really worth it? McGough’s script does a great job posing these questions for the audience to mull over as they leave the theater. Each character is given a very clear point of view and I found myself engaged with the work as it bounced along. I was never bored and there are a handful of hard hitting moments between the characters. However, I have to say that there was a part of me that kept wishing that we were seeing more of an arc with the characters. Save for a brief montage at the top of show, Adam is already pretty broken when the audience meets him and we never get to see him or his relationships before the drugs take hold. As well, there are moments described through exposition dialogue that I really wish I had seen played in front of me. For example Trisha and Adam have a moment prior to the start of the play (I won’t spoil it here) that I really wanted to see and kept hoping that the play would loop back to show it. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that I think those moments are withheld purposefully because McGough’s riffing on a Greek tragedy structure which frequently has characters running onstage to report on something that happened offstage. So there’s a reason for the structure choice, but for me, it robbed the piece of some of its emotional impact.
I have to confess that despite having two brothers who played the sport, I was never a big hockey fan. However, my plus one to the performance was, and she assured me that the play nails its lingo and details. Sports fans should take note. If they’re looking for new entertainment as the off season approaches, this may be the ticket.
Brawler is presented by and at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre March 1-18, 2018.
For tickets and more information, visit their website at www.bostonplaywrights.org