REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT
by Rod Serling
Level Ground Arts
Director: Bill Fountain
Stage Manager: Ande Bewley
Asst. Stage Manager: Bridgett Ochoa
Costume Design: Sharon Wiltshire
Lighting Design: Justin Peachee
Sound Design: Bill Fountain
Set Design: Justin Peachee and Bill Fountain
Props: Ande Bewley and Bridgett Ochoa
Fight Choreographer: Mark Dalton
Makeup Design: Alexis Nabors and Justin Peachee
Master Carpenter: Ken Long
Photographer: Daylon Walton
Program Design: Ande Bewley
Daylon Walton as Mountain McClintock
Van Quattro as Maish Resnick
Mark Dalton as Army Hakes (*change from playbill)
Rhonda Durant as Grace Miller
Allen Matthews as Leo Loomis
Mathew Butler as Max Greeny
R. Bradford Smith as Perelli
Haley Ellis as Golda
Alex Wade as Morrell
Raquel Leal as Charlie
Christopher Sykes as Policeman/The Kid
Jordan Pokladnik as Fighter/Ensemble
Bill Fountain as Fighter/Ensemble
Hubert J. "Jim" Beach as Packy/Ensemble
Reviewed Performance 3/4/2011
Reviewed by Ashlea Palladino, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Level Ground Arts opened its 2011 season with Rod Serling's Requiem for Heavyweight, playing through March 19th at the KD Studio Theatre in Dallas. Serling is best known for his television series, The Twilight Zone, so when I read the announcement of LGA's season some months ago, I remember thinking, "Good Lord?what in the world has Bill Fountain come up with now?" Mr. Fountain is masterful at keeping things interesting, and this Heavyweight is no exception. So, submitted for your approval?
Originally produced as a live teleplay in 1956, a film version of Heavyweight was released in 1962. The stage version focuses on Mountain McClintock, the punchy former Heavyweight contender struggling to find his identity after his boxing career ends. Meanwhile, Maish Resnick, Mountain's manager of fourteen years, is struggling with how to pay back gambling debts before his allotted time to pay runs out. Serling's script is seedy, it's bleak, and it's distressing. But it's also charming in parts, and wholly compelling. I was engaged from the moment McClintock, Maish and Army (the cut man) entered the stage for their first scene, and I was appropriately tense for about the next two hours.
Adding to this feeling of tension was the fact that much of the downstage action happened in my lap. Perhaps Mr. Fountain staged his actors so close to the audience to purposely ignite some discomfort, but I was confused as to why more of the stage wasn't utilized. The set, designed by Mr. Fountain and Justin Peachee, was functional, but not overly remarkable. The fight posters (by Daylon Walton) scattered here and there along the upstage wall were the most creative detail, though I wish they'd been larger and more easily readable from the audience.
While the script is intriguing, and the lighting and sound design (again by the team of Fountain and Peachee) helped move the script from place to place, the acting performances were what anchored this production, and what brought a lump to my throat in the final scene. A testimony to the power of Serling's script (and perhaps a fervent loyalty to LGA), several talented local actors signed on to do this show with three or fewer scenes, and even fewer lines. Mathew Butler and R. Bradford Smith were fabulously slimy as Maish's creditors, and Allen Matthews's turn as Leo Loomis, a scummy fight promoter, was lowlife perfection.
My favorite line of the show was delivered by Haley Ellis as Golda, a lady of the night who reserves a special place in her heart for Maish (Van Quattro). While trying to entice Maish out of the blue funk of his debt, Golda says, "Them that pays, I lets. Them I likes, I helps." The line was delivered with a kiss on the forehead, and with genuine tenderness.
As part of his curtain speech, Mr. Fountain informed the audience that the role of Army was now being played by Mark Dalton, who was listed in the playbill as the Fight Choreographer. Replacing an actor after a show opens was a weighty decision, but Mr. Dalton pulled it off. Army's is an interesting character, because his allegiance is obviously torn between Maish and Mountain, two men to whom he is devoted, but for very different reasons. Mr. Dalton's struggle was palpable.
Rhonda Durant, as Grace Miller, was introduced as a social worker who attempts to help Mountain identify new career goals after his last bout, and, in the interim, she falls for him. Ms. Durant was tiny in stature, which worked well against a character named "The Mountain". I didn't understand many of Ms. Durant's choices for her character, however. She was appropriately shy and demure one minute, and then frenetic and injected with speed the next minute, and I wasn't able to truly believe the character because of these deviations. Ms. Durant's most brilliant asset in this role was her eyes. The scenes where Grace darts her eyes at Mountain to get a glimpse of him while he's not looking were heartfelt and poignant.
We first saw Daylon Walton as Mountain McClintock after his final boxing match. Kudos to Alexis Nabors and Patrick Peachee for their believable makeup design on Mountain, complete with cauliflower ears ? the telltale sign of a seasoned pugilist. Mr. Walton is sweaty, bleeding from a cut above his eye, and panting with exhaustion. He is lying on a bench attempting to regain his breath and composure while the decision makers in his life are standing above him, making plans of their own. While a tough guy in the ring, Mountain is a sensitive, endearing man who only wants to please Maish, and Mr. Walton successfully garnered the sympathy necessary for his character. To say Mountain is less than a ladies' man is a gross understatement, and Mr. Walton was appropriately clumsy during his scenes with Ms. Durant ? clumsy but charming. He also effectively demonstrated a great deal of emotional pain late in Act 2 when Mountain comes to a startling realization.
Most of the movement in this show is promulgated by the actions of Maish Resnick, played quietly and with some reserve by Van Quattro. There is a particular scene where Maish is pacing the floor of his apartment, holding the stub of an ever-present cigar between his index and middle fingers, and I genuinely believed the panic that has to be roiling inside his mind at this point. Other times, however, he seems resigned to his fate and almost apathetic about the plans he hatches for Mountain's new career. Regardless, Mr. Quattro's final scenes were gut-wrenching and painfully honest.
Requiem for a Heavyweight is heavy on story. Period. While there are some incongruous character choices throughout the show, this cast did a marvelous job baring their souls and bringing this story to the table. Heavyweight is raw and different. Don't miss an opportunity to see it for yourself.
REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT by Rod Serling
Level Ground Arts at the KD Studio Theatre
2600 North Stemmons Expressway, Dallas, TX 75207
Runs through March 19th
Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:15pm
Ticket prices - $20 adults and $12 for students and seniors
For tickets and information, call 214-630-5491 or purchase at www.levelgroundarts.com