British playwright Roy Williams is a solid writer and brings a certain amount of realism to his work. “Sucker Punch”, now onstage at Victory Gardens , in its Midwest Premiere, is such a tale. The time is the early 1980’s thru the decade. Our location is the United Kingdom primarily as well as the Summer Olympics is 1988. The play deals with young fighters and their desire and aspirations to win and be looked up to. The young boys that we follow in this one hour and forty minute tale are Troy ( deftly handled by Denzel Love) and Leon (a powerful performance by Maurice Demus). They have been caught stealing during the local Race Riots and are now forced to work in the local working class gym as punishment.Their boss is trainer Charlie (another excellent performance by John Judd).
They are the best of friends, but as the play progresses, and they grow apart, each works towards reaching their own goals and attaining stardom. During this time period, tensions in England between the Black and White populations were high. Despite being born and raised in England, the Black British , were never treated in the same way as the White, with the exception of those in entertainment and/or sports. This is very close to what was taking place here in our country as well (and in some cases, still is). While these characters are lower class English, I feel that they could have cut down the accent a bit to make the dialogue more understandable. Taylor Blim, who is darling in her portrayal of Becky, Charlie’s daughter and Leon’s love interest, was often difficult to understand. I often think theaters should tone down the accents or even eliminate them. This play would be just as enjoyable without the accents, I assure you.
Director Dexter Bullard uses the stage and his actors to the best advantage and Tom Burch has designed a gym that serves as boxing rings in many locations as we watch these two men rise to the top, so to speak and face off for the championship. The fight choreography (Chuck Coyle should earn a Jeff for this one) is absolutely fantastic. If you are into prize-fighting, you will find yourself feeling right at home. These two actors are in fine condition and know how to spar, adding a lot of realism to the fight scenes. Tommy (Walter Briggs) is the local fighter that Charlie has trained for success. He also is built like a fighter and handles himself well in the ring. Just think of the exercise these men will get over the run of this production- wow!
The other cast members in this story are local favorites Kenn E. Head as Squid, Leon’s father, Andre Teamer as Ray, a fight promoter who takes on Troy as his fighter and Jason Goff (as several characters). The show itself has all the ingredients to be something more- original music and sound by Christopher Kriz, wonderful lighting by Lee Fiskness, in particular during the fight sequence as each punch is landed-amazing! and props by Jay Tollefsen. The actors who truly looked like fighters were coached by Ruben Gonzalez, and if I could give the boxing a rating it would be.
This is more than a boxing story. It is a story about friends and how no matter what happens in their lives, the ties that will (or should) bind them forever. While the time sequences are a bit hard to follow as well as the love story between Becky and Leon, it is the fighting that stands out and makes this a production that will hold your interest. I understand the concept of not wanting an intermission so the audience can stay in the story from start to finish, but there might have been just a bit added to complete some of the thoughts of Williams. There is a line in the show that really stands out- “White men pay Black men to fight each other so they won’t have to” ! Another is reference to being a “somebody” instead of a “nobody”. The term, “Sucker Punch” is getting hit when you do not expect to be, and in this case, it refers to being treated as less than who these young men are. Judge for yourself. Does Williams convey this?
Tuesdays 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Open caption dates, October 2nd, 3rd and 7th
Audio description October 11th
ASL interpretation October 2nd
Tickets range in price from $15- $60 and can be reserved by calling 773-871-3000 or visiting www.victorygardens.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Sucker Punch”