Golden Boy, one of Clifford Odets’ least politically charged and most commercially successful plays, originally opened at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway in 1937 where it ran for more than 250 performances. The play had a short-lived revival in 1952, served as the basis of a musical starring Sammy Davis Jr., and was twice adapted for the movies, but otherwise was seldom revived. Now it is receiving a well-deserved long overdue revival by Lincoln Center at the Belasco Theatre where it first premiered three-quarters of a century ago. As it turns out, this revival is terrific and it was well worth having waited for.
The plot revolves around young Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich), who is torn between pursuing a career as a musician (he is a highly talented violinist) and a potentially much more lucrative career as a prizefighter (which could result in injury to his hands thereby limiting or even destroying his ability to play the violin). Complicating matters, Joe and Lorna Moon (Yvonne Strahovski) fall in love. Lorna, a self-described “tramp from Newark” is the mistress of Tom Moody (Danny Mastrogiorgio), Joe’s manager. Tom is married and Lorna has been waiting patiently for him to divorce his wife so that she might marry him; the entrance of Joe on the scene complicates her emotional life enormously.
Numrich, Strahovski, and Mastrogiorgio are wonderful in their respective roles but it is Tony Shaloub in the role of Mr. Bonaparte, Joe’s father, who really steals the show. Shaloub’s acting range is extraordinary: best known for his memorable television roles (as Adrian Monk in “Monk,” as Antonio Scarpacci in “Wings,” and as a cabdriver in “Taxi”), Shaloub, an Arab-American, proves equally adept in his depiction of Joe’s tortured, loving Italian father on stage in this, his Lincoln Center debut.
The play is rife with sub-plots and secondary attractions, mostly of a two-dimensional nature: as Odets has written them, none are particularly creative but taken for what they are, they are mildly entertaining. Anthony Crivello plays the part of the gangster Eddie Fuseli seeking to wrest control of Joe from Tom Moody in classic grade B tough guy gangster movie fashion. Lucas Caleb Rooney plays the part of Frank Bonaparte, Joe’s union organizing brother, in similar caricaturish fashion. And Jonathan Hadary brings a measure of comic relief to the play as Mr. Carp, Mr. Bonaparte’s neighbor and friend.
This is not a deep play and it breaks no new ground. But given the limitations of the play itself, it is highly entertaining and this production (including set design, acting and direction) is as good as it gets.