Josh Flanders is an actor, writer and comedian in Chicago. He is a writer for Choice The Musical and half of the comedy duo Flanders. Josh is a contributor for Chicago Reader and Chicagoland Musical Theatre, a member of the American Theater Critics Association, and a graduate of the Second City Conservatory. He is co-owner of Flanders Consulting.
Pictured: Mark Pracht. Photo by Joe Mazza | Brave Lux
By Josh Flanders
“Requiem for a Heavyweight” is a familiar story: an aging boxer, who has taken one too many punches, faces a world that has only taught him one skill—fighting. Upon entering the small, 40-seat theater, the audience literally becomes ring-side observers in this 1950s Rod Serling drama that is staged on a boxing ring. Director John Mossman successfully recreates the feeling of being at a boxing match with rhythmic transitions involving synchronized punching and visceral moments of alternating tension and tenderness.
The story follows Mountain McClintock, who has just been told that it is time for him to retire or face even more serious injuries than he has already endured. His manager, Maish, knows he is a fading star but still wants to find a way to cash in on this fighter he has supported for 14 years. His trainer, Army, reminisces with Mountain over his past wins and injuries, but realizes that his time as a boxer is up and he needs to find other work. Enter Grace, who works at a job placement agency and takes a liking to Mountain, trying to set up an interview for him.
Serling’s script is prescient as an exploration on sports that use men and throw them away when their ability to make money diminishes. Capitalism and fighting both define success as being able to beat their opponent down and remain standing. Yet despite being used and lied to, Mountain still maintains his pride. As the almost-heavyweight champion of the world, he cannot decide if he is somebody or nobody, or if he will be remembered at all. Meeting Grace is a catalyst, and he realizes “you make me feel like I have a name.”
Mark Pracht is captivatingly intense as Mountain, whose strength and ferocity juxtapose his sensitivity, unquestioning nature, and incorruptibility. In many ways, he is still a child, trusting people and being let down for the first time. Patrick Thornton is passionate, intense, and a joy to watch as Maish. His desire to find utility in his aging protégé is ruthless, yet so very human. Todd Wojcik is delightful as Army, at one point standing up for Mountain to his manager, “how many people want to feed off of one guy’s misery?” he exclaims, fed up that Maish fails to see Mountain’s humanity.
The tragedy that capitalism needs its suckers, its patsies, to make money for those in charge no doubt rings true. Yet in classic Serling form, it is unclear who really needs who to survive. “Requiem for a Heavyweight” examines what it takes to be a man, the tragedy of trusting others and never standing up for oneself, and even provides the opportunity for a little redemption in the end.
“Requiem for a Heavyweight” plays through March 31. Tickets and more info at theartistichome.org.