nytheatre.com review by Daniel John Kelley
August 26, 2009
The Boxer is exactly what it says it is: a silent film for the stage. It's a silly, light-hearted slapstick love story, with live music, and no spoken dialogue. Meticulously written and directed by Matt Lyle, The Boxer is an hour of pure old-timey fun.
The play tells the story of Velma, a lovely young lady who, in order to make a living wage, dresses up like a man—and looks not unlike a certain iconic loveable tramp. Through a series of hijinks, Velma ends up as the trainer for a feisty little scrapper known only as "The Boxer." The big fight is fast approaching, and The Boxer needs to beat "The Bavarian Beast" and win the prize money for his sick ma. Thus Velma trains the boxer, and in the process, falls in love. But can The Boxer take down The Bavarian Beast? And will Velma ever reveal her true feelings for The Boxer? You'll have to see the show to find out.
As a whole, the ensemble is strong, and works well together to keep up the show's gag-a-minute pace throughout. Kim Lyle as Velma and Jeff Swearingen as The Boxer have a natural comic chemistry that is fun to watch. Ben Bryant gets big laughs for his ludicrous physical work as the hulking Bavarian Beast.
But while the show as whole is enjoyable, there are moments that fall flat. At times it feels as though there is a winking self-referentiality, as though the characters are telegraphing to the audience "well, isn't what we're doing silly." Part of what makes the greats great—Chaplin, Keaton etc.—is that while they are doing feats of tremendous silliness, the characters they're playing remain invested in the circumstances. It is we the audience who see what they're doing as silly, and not them at all. The ironic detachment present in The Boxer may be director Matt Lyle's attempt to make the show feel more contemporary, but in this case I feel it does do the show a disservice. Don't get me wrong: the show as it is now is good—but it does have the potential to be great and in this it falls short.
Regardless, young and old will doubtlessly find a little something to delight them in The Boxer. At the show I was at, in front of me sat a silver-haired gentleman guffawing, and way in the back a little kid squealed with glee. The Boxer is a solid hour, packed to the brim with shtick and charm, and worth checking out in the final weekend of FringeNYC.