Highly Recommended ***** As “Man in the Ring” ended, I was wiping away tears. This gripping drama is based on the true story of six-time world boxing champion, Emile Griffith. Even though I don’t know anything about boxing and I’d never even heard of Emile Griffith, I still found this touching re-telling of his life story incredibly sad. I give “Man in the Ring” 4 Spotlights.
“Man in the Ring” opens with a man (Allen Gilmore as Griffith) sitting on a bed staring at a shoe – from different angles. After a time, Luis (Gabriel Ruiz) enters with the other shoe, which he found in the refrigerator. Although Luis handed the shoe to Emile, he didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
It’s obvious Emile is suffering from dementia – he remembers parts of his life in flashbacks, reacting physically to his memories, screaming in pain or writhing on the floor. Whenever that happens, Luis pulls him back to the present by reminding him of their plans for the day.
When young Emile (Kamal Angelo Bolden) arrives in New York with a small suitcase and a baseball bat, he meets his mother, Emelda (Jacqueline Williams), who abandoned him – and his six siblings – leaving them with various friends and relatives when she left the Virgin Islands for New York. She tries to justify what she did while he remembers some of the bad things ‘Auntie’ did to him.
Emile plans to make his way in New York by singing or playing baseball. His other talent, making hats, inadvertently led to his boxing. He gave his mother a hat he’d made for her, which she took to a factory owner hoping he’d hire Emile as a hat designer. Instead Howie took one look at Emile and decided he’d make a boxer.
By the way, Bolden is one of the most physically fit actors I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t believe the ease with which he chinned himself – straight body and pike position – displaying incredible muscle definition. Jumping rope, he was unbelievably fast and never missed. All I can say is, wow!
Emile Griffith’s boxing career was defined by his title fight with a boxer named Bennie Paret (Sheldon Brown). After a flurry of hits in the thirteenth round, Bennie fell unconscious to the floor. He was in a coma for several days, then he died.
When he visited Bennie’s son, also named Bennie, Emile tries to say he’s sorry. He said he’d gone to the hospital every day to say he was sorry, but they never let him in.
“Man in the Ring” runs through October 16th at the Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago.
Running time is 1 hour, 50 minutes, with an intermission.
Fridays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm.
Tickets range from $45-$65. Parking is free. Parking is free in the garage next door to the theater (you’ll have to take a ticket, but the gate will be up when you leave). FYI (773) 753-4472 or www.courttheatre.org.
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