The Good Fight
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
September 20, 2007
The Good Fight is a musical written by the late Nick Enright and composed by David King about a popular Australian boxer who has gone to the United States to compete for the world title and evade military service during the First World War while his boyhood friend fights in Europe. However, this is neither a "boxing play" nor a "war play."
In the early 20th century, the enormously popular Australian middleweight boxer Les Darcy was considered to be the best boxer ever. In his home country, he was middle- and heavyweight champion and on his way to winning the world middleweight title. However, when war was declared in Europe in 1914, Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes insisted that Australia fight alongside England. The PM believes Les enlisting would be a great boon to the country, encouraging others to join up and fight. Les is idealistic at first, but ultimately evades conscription to vie for the world title in the U.S., where he is slowly but steadily snubbed and ostracized by the public.
Meanwhile, Les's good friend, a news reporter named Charlie, feels it is his duty to fight in the Great War, so he does, and becomes increasingly resentful towards his boxer friend who he believes is shirking his patriotic duty.
On home turf in Australia, Charlie's mother repeatedly chastises Les's for raising such a cowardly and unpatriotic son.
Crispin Taylor ably directs a cast made up of very talented performers and singers. Costume designers Alison Fraser, Bronwyn Mace, and Lorraine Koh adeptly evoke a sepia-toned look with the costumes. There are also some genuinely impressive moments in the play (such as one scene under harsh red strobe lights juxtaposing Les in the ring with Charlie on the field).
The problem, however, with The Good Fight, is that its creators spend so much time on the ensemble songs that they don't spend enough time on the story. The description I've offered above amounts to about 15 minutes of stage time. About 90% of the musical consists of singing and 90% of those songs are big ensemble songs (rather than solos), so we get very few scenes with the main characters talking (or singing) about their conflicts, thoughts, or feelings. In fact, most of the main characters wind up being too thinly drawn with too little stage time to give the audience a chance to really care about them. Ultimately, we never get to "know" Les or Charlie (or their parents, for that matter).
Also, the constant ensemble pieces make the narrative structure a bit confusing (most of the songs have that "Big Finish" feel). This is a play all about Big Moments and Big Numbers, which means that smaller moments (like scenes between Charlie and a sweet French girl he meets and falls in love with overseas) are constantly pushed aside.
At the end of the day, The Good Fight is a bit too...I suppose the word is "grandiose"...and on the nose. It's a play about honor, but that's something you catch on to very early in the first act. Perhaps it would have been better if it spent more time treating Les and Charlie as three-dimensional characters rather than poster boys for grand ideas.