Only the puppets get bruised
The man in the box office at the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre summed it up well: "It's a real cute love story, actually."
The name of the show --- Trick Boxing --- combined with the promise of a love story set visions of a Punch and Judy-esque barrage dancing. But no: It's really just a romantic comedy, told very well, with engaging narrative tricks. And the only ones who get beat up are puppets.
Two actors, Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan, tell the tale, with Sostek doing multiple duty as tricky boxing promoter, naïve boxing protégé, dead once-boxer brother, mob boss puppetmaster, boxing ref, and the bookmaker in a sweat-breaking tour de force. He's an amazing character actor and a lot of fun to watch. McClellan mainly plays the light-on-her-feet Bella (and she does this very well), but she also shows up in the filmstrip-like instructional segment, which is hilarious.
And that's the thing: This quick little number never gets dull because chunks of the action are shown through almost cinematic devices. We don't see Dancing Danny learn how to box, we see an instructional "video"; we don't see the actual boxing matches, we see toys duke it out in a tiny boxing ring; we don't see Danny and Bella simply fall in love, we watch them dance.
Because the acting is so good and the lush vignettes are held together so seamlessly, a difficult plotline would be too much.
Which is good, because the story is simple, and we've heard it before: It's the Depression, a street-smart promoter tries to turn a goodhearted immigrant into a boxer to make a quick buck, but a girl enters the equation ("dames and boxing don't mix"), and the power of love transforms the whole deal into gold. There's a twist with a watch that makes its own time, but in the end that's really just about love, too.
So there's the dream for a new life, the triumph of the underdog, boxing, romance, tough talking, and swing dancing --- what else does a good story need? Just a fresh way to tell it. Which they've got.
Freshness may be why the show hit big on the Fringe Festival circuit (Edinburgh and Vancouver). DCT has done well allying itself with the Fringe; it's the source of some of their most interesting shows. Thick, for example, which was at DCT in September 2004 and whose recent New York City Fringe Festival run was produced in part by Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, received more than one mention in the NYC press over the last couple of weeks.
You should go if you like a goodhearted story with new blood in its veins; fun, quirky storytelling buoyed by on-the-dime acting and dancing. | Trick Boxing through Friday, September 9 | Downstairs Cabaret Theatre Center, 540 East Main Street | $21 | 325-4370, www.downstairscabaret.com