Two boxers in a local club in Scotland run by the trainer Bobby Burgess take separate paths to the top. Unfortunately the play fails to let us in on the obstacles either of them faces or how they overcome them with the result that this is one of the most boring plays I've ever sat through.
Bobby's training approach is to set himself up as "God" and requires complete obedience from his boxers. One of them, independent minded Ajay Chopra, breaks out of this petty autocracy and — off-stage and we have no clue as to how he does it — rises to become a champion. Taqi Nazeer as Ajay is the only actor in the show with a strong stage presence and, among the men, the only one with the agility and muscular development to be convincing as an athlete.
Out of his remaining boxers, Bobby picks Cameron Burns to challenge Ajay, improbably since Ajay is already at the top and none of Bobby's boxers is much beyond the wannabe stage. And why Cameron? We have no idea since they all seem equally lackluster, nor have we seen anything in Cameron's personality, nor in any of the others, to engage our empathy. (Dina, the one girl learning to box, is obviously out of the running.) The only thing that sets Cameron off from the others is that his mother, a generic lower-class mother closely associated with a washing machine, is the only mother introduced as a character, which pretty well telegraphs the ending.
Parts of the Big Fight between Ajay and Cameron are choreographed effectively but other parts fall flat: Bobby teaches his boxers not to fight the air but in the effort to keep the onstage fight going awhile without the actors beating one another up, many of their thrusts are air punches. Dina's only function is to strut around in a Wonder Woman metallic bikini during the championship fight. The play, through its outcome, stresses the dangers of boxing, which may be virtuous but doesn't make up for lack of dramatic strength. The Music of Underworld has its own excitement and is the best aspect of the production.
In 2008, the National Theatre of Scotland brought a brilliant play, Black Watch, reviewed here, to St. Ann's Warehouse: that memory brought me to see Beautiful Burnout — but don't look for similarity on any level.
Beautiful Burnout plays at St. Ann's Warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn, through March 27. For more information and tickets, click on live link.
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