What is about boxing that so fascinates modern writers? From Ernest Hemingway to Norman Mailer, and even Joyce Carol Oates, the “sweet science” has been the backdrop for countless short stories, novellas, essays and the like, but none more thoroughly captured the simultaneous attraction and the agony than Rod Serling’s pre-“Twilight Zone” 1956 Playhouse 90 teleplay “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” Serling himself had been a boxer, and his love and knowledge of the sport, warts and all, permeates every gory detail of the fall of an over-the-hill prizefighter. The material is so first-rate that it single-handedly made Serling’s sterling reputation as a writer and Mickey Rooney, who played a supporting role in the 1962 film version, felt the material was the best he had been given since playing Shakespeare as a teenager. From the opening bell of this pull-no-punches Shattered Globe production, the audience becomes an interactive part of the action with two heavyweights slugging it out and sweat and blood showering unsuspecting bystanders as it would ringside at a real fight. But that action is nothing compared to the brutality of the outside world that one-time number-five-ranked heavyweight Mountain McClintock attempts to navigate when an eye injury forces his sudden retirement. Sean Sullivan is spectacular as a man who could punch straight-on for fourteen years but has trouble with those punches that you don’t see coming, such as a manager betting against you, or trying to make a living when you have devoted yourself selflessly to a single endeavor. The rise or fall of a good “Heavyweight” is how much heart is displayed without becoming maudlin, and Sullivan is remarkably convincing, never letting his guard down on being too “punchy.” But the rest of this first-rate ensemble cast is no less convincing, from the sadistic seediness of the promoters to the guys already in the prizefight “graveyard,” sitting around the bar reliving their best fights blow by blow, beer by beer. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 North Lincoln, (773)871-3000. This production is now closed.