Seth Numrich, Danny Burstein and Danny Mastrogiorgio in "Golden Boy"

Seth Numrich, Danny Burstein and Danny Mastrogiorgio in "Golden Boy" Credit: Seth Numrich, Danny Burstein and Danny Mastrogiorgio in "Golden Boy"

Golden Boy
3 stars

How lucky we are to have Lincoln Center Theater, no doubt the city's most prestigious not-for-profit theater company, bring back Clifford Odets' rarely seen 1937 boxing tragedy "Golden Boy" in an altogether gripping revival.

In a very appropriate touch, it is being revived on the 75th anniversary of its premiere and at the same theater where it was first seen on Broadway.

In light of its three-act structure, three-hour length and the financial demands of having a 19-person ensemble cast, "Golden Boy" could never be produced commercially today. Well, unless it starred Al Pacino.

The sprawling play observes the dramatic rise and fall of Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich), an Italian male in his early 20s who tosses aside his training as a violinist to become a celebrated prize fighter, much to the concern of his loving immigrant father (Tony Shalhoub).

While "Golden Boy" lacks the fervent appeal to leftist politics and unionization that pervades "Awake and Sing!" and Odets' infamous propaganda piece "Waiting for Lefty," it makes for a well-constructed and earthy narrative that depicts a seedy underworld and a violent clash of cultures and competing values.

Bartlett Sher, who staged Odets' riveting family drama "Awake and Sing!" in 2006, directs with an emphasis on period style.

Nowadays, most play revivals are headlined by a single, well-known film star. "Golden Boy," on the other hand, has been cast with an abundance of excellent stage actors, including not just Shalhoub and Numrich but also Danny Burstein, Jonathan Hadary, Anthony Crivello and Danny Mastrogiorgio.

Numrich, who most recently appeared in "War Horse," makes a convincing transition from cockeyed youth to restless and reckless champ while exposing Bonaparte's insecurities. Shalhoub, who is best known for his comedic work, is genuinely touching in the father role.

Yvonne Strahovski, one of very few females in the cast, more than satisfies as the seemingly hard-as-nails dame who engages in an affair with Joe on top of her other affair with Joe's manager.

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