Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Trick Boxing’ a surprising adventure in theater

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Trick Boxing’ a surprising adventure in theater

Two performers color a vivid ’30s-style story.

PHOTO: Brian Sostek and his wife, Megan McClellan, do all in the theatrical presentation, “Trick Boxing.” Sossy Mechanics photo

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – You’re in the 1930s. On a street. City street. Probably New York. The atmosphere: the Great Depression. A solitary peddler wants to sell you a potato. He is a person of bearing. Well spoken. Chiseled of body and face. He starts to tell you how it came to be that he – a fine cut of a man – came to be selling potatoes on the street.

Two hours later, you’ve heard or heard seen – among other characters – Dancing Danny David, Johnny Aorta, Jake the Monkey, Rocky the boxer and his sweet, boxing partner/ sister, Bella. You’ve seen/heard rhythm pattern boxing workout routines, been swept into ballroom and swing dances of flash and flair, witnessed puppetry for boxing matches with oddball boxers, heard the rapid-fire radio announcer’s call and generally been carried along by the pull of a story that’s a romance at heart.

That’s the gist of “Trick Boxing,” a theatrical adventure that Stage Door Theatre Company is hosting in the small theater of Third Avenue Playhouse.

“Trick Boxing” is a surprising stage experience. It is created by two people, husband and wife Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan, and performed by them. He plays all the male parts, and she is dance-driven Bella.

A surprise: That “Trick Boxing” exists. Who would think that someone would write a story of the 1930s with characters off of the pages of Damon Runyon. Boxing was a thing of the time – a way out of hard times for hopefuls but fraught with cheats and charlatans. Dancing was a thing of the time – a spectrum from dime-a-dance grappling to high-speed finesse and fun of high-energy swing. Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan put these together, then perform what it takes to perform the boxing, the dancing, the characters.

Another surprise: That a single person can propel the story of “Trick Boxing” through quick-shift characterizations and then burst into movement with his partner. One second, Brian Sostek is Buck, the storytelling character, a smoothie. The next second, he is Johnny Aorta, a gnarled, fight-wreck knot of wily, threatening humanity. The next second, he can be David Danielovich, a shell-game artist with a naïve manner who is plunked into the ring as the shifty, impossible to hit Dancing Danny David. The next second, he can be Rocky, the rough-edged wannabe who spars with his sister, with her toe-to-toeing with him through synchronized moves through left jab, right jab, right uppercut classic moves along with the knee to the groin, elbow to the chin, slug to the back of the head cheating stuff. Brian Sostek is at the core of all this – shifting, feinting, maneuvering through all the characters with precision.

Another surprise: That a person can spin, kick and swing through full-on dance moves with his lithe, limber, quick, strong, energized, physically daring, expert partner (Megan McClellan as spirited Bella) and come out of all the action as if he had just merely walked across the street. Not puffing. Not showing any sign of great effort. Not red of face. Instead, he speaks in normal breath in the voice of one of his characters, like all the bolts of power and drive his body just went through didn’t happen. Brian Sostek is an example of supreme fitness. The discipline to do what he does is tremendous. Megan McClellan, too, but Brian Sostek is at it all the time in this show; she gets breaks.

The story and experience of “Trick Boxing” is so other that it’s a wonder that “Trick Boxing” came to be (much less found its way to Sturgeon Bay). First, Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan had to believe in themselves to dare to put such a venture in front of an audience. Imagine: “Let’s see. How can put we do what we do well – separately and together – into a piece we’ll make up – verbally and physically – and tell a story?” And then the two had to pound out the development. Tough work.

The story is part mean, seamy and heartless (boxing is that) and part sweet (as Dancing Danny and Bella come together through dance; the real couple, too) and part wild-eyed comical (the boxing matches are played out in a tiny ring by spoof characters, one of whom is a fragile skeleton).

Sound like a 5 stars out of 5 show? You betcha.

Performances continue through Aug. 24. Info: www.thirdavenueplayhouse.com.

This is a return engagement for “Trick Boxing” to TAP’s Studio Theatre.

***

Creative: Co-playwrights, choreographers, directors – Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan (who call their organizational entity Sossy Mechanics); original lighting design – Jeff Bartlett; lighting design (house) – James Valcq; original sound design – Katharine Horowitz; production stage manager, sound design (house) – Ryan Shaw; costume design – Mary Hansmeyer; prop design – Kellie Larson; scenic design – Michael Hoover.

***

AHEAD: “Private Lives,” Sept. 3-25; “The Fantastics,” Oct. 1-19.

THE VENUE: The 84-seat Studio Theatre is located in Third Avenue Playhouse in downtown Sturgeon Bay. The space is tucked into the corner off the main theater of the playhouse. Entry is along a long hallway off the playhouse’s lobby. Studio Theatre is a black-box theater; the walls and support beams are black. The focus becomes the stage, which is rectangular and has no curtain. For “Trick Boxing,” drops at the back of the stage give the illusion of a large wall of bricks, as if an urban alley; to the audience’s right on the stage is another seemingly brick wall, behind which props are stored and where Megan McClellan is between scenes. With the closeness of the audience to the stage, the aura is the audience is part of what is transpiring in the play. The playhouse is in its 13th year as a live performance venue. It previously was a movie theater, the Donna.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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