Review of Reviews: Stage
Requiem for a Heavyweight
Requiem for a HeavyweightVictory Gardens Theater, Chicago(773) 871-3000
Before Rod Serling created The Twilight Zone, he helped originate the early television series Playhouse 90, said Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune. In his 1956 teleplay Requiem for a Heavyweight, Jack Palance played Mountain McClintock, a battered boxer beginning to suffer mental decline. Sean Connery took over the role in a British adaptation, and Anthony Quinn played him in a subsequent film version. But Serling’s work has never been as “rich, compact, and deliciously entertaining” as in this new stage adaptation by Chicago’s Shattered Globe troupe. Sean Sullivan is a big, intense, and impressive young actor, convincing as a ferocious fighter inside the ring and used-up creature outside. Several action sequences take place “about 3 feet from the front row,” in which McClintock trades dialogue—and punches—with equal intensity. “You viscerally experience the thud of the glove as it hits his decaying noggin,” and might even get sprayed with his sweat.
Requiem for a Heavyweight is pretty much “an old-fashioned melodrama,” said Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun-Times, But mixed in with the scene-chewing is a sociological study of midcentury prizefighting culture and a “beauty and the beast romance.” Paula Stevens, as “a pretty social worker,” raises McClintock’s hopes for a brighter future. The boxer’s manager has other plans, however, signing him up to fight in fixed wrestling matches. The simple premise, straightforward narrative, and clear thematic development are all hallmarks of the Serling style. The writer knew how to “pierce the heart and conscience without ever turning sappy,” just as director Lou Contey knows how to tell a sad story without pulling any punches.