Volume 20, Number 42 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | March 2 - 8, 2011
Photo by Richard Termine
Glasgow boxers go for it. See “Beautiful Burnout.”
Three rounds of boxing
TV show, play, tournament might hook you on the sweet science
COMPILED BY SCOTT STIFFLER
Want to become emotionally invested in a gritty underdog story or just watch two muscular guys wail on each other in a state-sanctioned bout that’s as artful as it is brutal? Only the sweet science known as boxing delivers. Try telling that to the general public, though.
While raw and real Mixed Martial Arts has replaced scripted pro wrestling as cable’s bloodsport of choice, boxing has fallen off the radar. It seems like forever since we’ve had a charismatic heavyweight champion who enjoyed household name status. Insiders gripe, justifiably perhaps, that apart from Ali (and George Foreman in grill-selling mode), America prefers its boxing heroes to come in various shades of white.
Maybe Oscar gold for the Micky Ward biopic “The Fighter” will put boxing on the front burner again. Melissa Leo won Best Supporting Actress for her layered portrayal of boozy, opportunistic matriarch Alice Ward — and Christian Bale got the nod for his showboating but brilliant turn as crack-addled big brother Dicky Eklund. Back in December, we took 53-7 former amateur fighter Shawn Raysor to see the film — along with the fighter he currently trains: 13-1 pro heavyweight and two-time NYC Golden Gloves winner Tor Hamer.
While both Raysor and Hamer took “The Fighter” to task for its less than dynamic fight scenes, Raysor concluded, “It portrayed a guy who was behind, then got a dramatic victory. It satisfied that goal.” For Hamer, “It’s an uplifting, underdog story. You’re going to walk out of that film happy. You’re going to want to go, you know, hit somebody.”
Both trainer and fighter were onto something. An athlete’s struggle against all odds is ready-made for us to imprint our own dreams, triumphs and shortcomings onto.
Since January 11, the FX network has been making its own bid for boxing immortality — in the form of “Lights Out.” Now over half way through the premier season, it’s a one-two punch of narrative clichés and shabby dialogue saved by a comeback story that digs its hooks into you. We asked Raysor for his opinion of the first five episodes.
But first, the plot: Five years ago, heavyweight champion Patrick “Lights” Leary suffered a shattering defeat in the ring. Today, the local hero contemplates moonlighting as a violent debt collector or returning to boxing so he doesn’t lose the Leary Boxing Gym because of his brother’s shady business dealings. The busy plot even finds room for daddy issues — courtesy of gym trainer “Pops” (ace in the hole Stacey Keach as the Leary patriarch). There’s also a marriage on the rocks and complications from the onset of pugilistic dementia (diagnosed by his web-surfing teenage daughter, but missed entirely by his clueless doctor wife).
A lesser actor might throw in the towel — but Holt McCallany redeems things by bringing an intense afterburn to every humiliation that “Lights” endures (including being called “Lights” by everyone from sympathetic cops to the colorful Chinese restaurant owner). It’s this undercurrent of capped ferocity that gives the show legitimate dramatic tension. Raysor notes this split decision is not unfamiliar to boxers: “You’re restrained when you’re in the outside world, because you know that your hands are deadly; so you have a little more patience. He portrayed a sense of calmness, but the boxing instinct comes out every time he gets into a brawl.”
Although the show is more about melodrama, an episode never goes by without a fight scene. Raysor says, “I thought the boxing scenes could use a lot of work. He could tighten up a little on the defense. The body shots are good. He’s a brawler, so he’s going to the body. He’s throwing left hooks to the head. The fight scenes in they gym are not bad.”
On the stage now through March 27 (at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn), Frantic Assembly and the National Theatre of Scotland’s intermittently brilliant “Beautiful Burnout” merges the hardscrabble life of amateur boxers with choreography inspired by their balletic grace and a pulsating soundtrack from British electronica group Underworld.
While it stops short of nailing the mechanics and motivations of boxing, it’s compelling theater nonetheless — thanks to a cast of seven who convey the boiling intensity of their subject matter while emoting in a thick Scottish accent that American audiences will actually be able to comprehend (there ought to be some special achievement award for that).
Set in a Glasgow boxing gym ruled by God-like trainer Bobby Burgess, “Burnout” covers several years in the lives of three hot Burgess prospects, one promising novice and one “boxing lassie” who punches better than the boys.
On the outskirts is Carlotta — mother to newcomer Cameron Burns. As played by Blythe Duff, she’s the most world-weary and insightful of the bunch. As a witness to (and facilitator of) the damage, Carlotta hovers just far enough outside the ring to comment on the hypocrisy of a sport that rewards all-consuming devotion by turning winners into celebrities and spitting out losers like useless cherry pits.
That’s certainly enough high drama to entertain — too bad that the presentation isn’t as ambitious. Much has been made about how London-based choreographer Steven Hoggett was inspired by a late night visit to the world-renowned Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. He should have spent six months training, like his cast did. If so, the choreography would surely be more compelling than the almost laughable moves meant to parallel the stamina and power common to boxing and dance. Instead, we’re given little more than synchronized calisthenics and jump rope exercises punctuated by fleeting, albeit competent, bursts of jabs and punches.
Hoggett is at his best when he lets his artsy instincts take over. Cameron’s first ritualistic wrapping of his hands, and a trio of dancing referees, aren’t by the book moves — but they hit the mark of truth in a way the training sequences never achieve. The use of a circular ring with no ropes to define the boxer’s world is an odd choice; yet when that circle moves to show you the fight at all angles, and in slow motion, “Beautiful Burnout” is saved by the bell. For tickets and info, visit stannswarehouse.com.
“The Daily News Golden Gloves”
When it comes to witnessing that moment of truth in the ring (and the human drama that precedes it), the best that fiction has to offer is a pale imitation of the real thing. Fortunately, you have the opportunity to see early-career boxers compete in the Daily News Golden Gloves. The world’s oldest and largest amateur boxing tournament consists of 10 weeks of elimination bouts held throughout the New York metropolitan area. Since January 20, a field of hundreds of fighters has been narrowing down in anticipation of the finals — held at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on April 7 and 8.
With bouts lasting just three rounds, this perfect introduction to the sport affords you the chance to see 10 bouts on any given night. You might also see a future legend — this was the launching pad for Emile Griffith, Jose Torres, Floyd Patterson, Riddick Bowe and others.
For a schedule, visit nydailynews.com/goldengloves. Tickets can be purchased at the door for each venue. For more info, call 212-210-1959.