Photo: Sara Krulwich

  • TM


Opening Night:
August 6, 2014
September 7, 2014

Theater: 59E59 Theaters / 59 East 59th St., New York, NY, 10022


Take a look at the hard world of boxing from the perspective of small time gym owner Tre and the young up-and-comer Donell. They come from different worlds, they barely understand each other, but in the ring anything is possible. Loyalty and dreams are put to the test in this explosive match that promises to pull some punches and fearlessly land the others.


    Add a Sucker Punch to His Fight Card In ‘The Opponent,’ a Boxer and Trainer Square Off

    Charles Isherwood

    August 7, 2014: The next time I walk into a theater and am faced with a boxing ring, I may be tempted to flee. For some reason, pugilism has become the flavor of the moment at the theater. There is Rocky, of course, but also the Muhammad Ali bio-drama Fetch Clay, Make Man (which I’ve reviewed twice) & Tyson vs. Ali, an experimental play about those two famous champions. I’m beginning to feel a little punch-drunk. The next bout on the bill is The Opponent, a slender play by Brett Neveu, which opened Wednesday night at the 59E59 Theaters in a production that originated at the Chicago company A Red Orchid Theater. (The actor Michael Shannon is among the troupe’s founders.) In this two-hander — perhaps I should call it a four-fister — a young boxer, Donell Fuseles (Kamal Angelo Bolden), and a former fighter who runs a training gym, Tre Billiford (Guy Van Swearingen), hop into the ring together on the day of an important fight in Donell’s burgeoning career. As Donell practices his moves and Tre urges him on, they hash over the past and the future, both working up a good sweat as they bob and weave around the somewhat grimy ring of Joey Wade’s pungently detailed set, representing a down-at-the-heels establishment in Lafayette, La. Donell hasn’t been training at Tre’s place lately; the manager that Tre introduced him to a couple years back has moved him over to a higher-class gym. But Donell still feels a loyalty to Tre, and perhaps for sentimental reasons has decided to stop by and work out on the morning before his most important professional fight. Mr. Neveu, a well-regarded Chicago playwright, captures the friendly but occasionally testy give and take between the up-and-comer and his former mentor as they suss out Donell’s approach to his fight. And yet much of the dialogue — when it can be heard among the sounds of leather hitting leather — seems to do little more than establish Mr. Neveu’s admirable grasp of this testosterone-drenched milieu. The script keeps circling without really landing any notable hits.


    Chicago's A Red Orchid Theatre brings its boxing ring to 59E59 for the New York premiere of Brett Neveu's two-person battle of wills

    Hayley Levitt

    August 6, 2014: A few blocks northeast of Broadway's shiniest prize fight, another boxing ring has lost its luster after years of arduous training. Brett Neveu's The Opponent, which recently transferred from Chicago's A Red Orchid Theatre to 59E59 Theaters, examines the world of professional boxing without the musical montage, climactic love story, or mythic final battle to add a noble heroism to the otherwise grungy setting. Rather than cashing in on these conventional modes of theatrical suspense, the introspective two-hander, following an up-and-coming boxer and his longtime coach, opts for a subdued character study. It may not leave you holding your breath, but it will convince you to lean an ear toward the ring. Guy Van Swearingen and Kamal Angelo Bolden reprise their roles as trainer Tre (short for Tremont) and protégé Donell, respectively, showcasing the natural, fluid rapport that has been wonderfully nurtured by director Karen Kessler. The pair successfully anchors two complete acts, filled with nothing but simple conversation that ebbs and flows in dramatic tension. The play opens on the morning of a career-defining fight that underdog Donell has arranged for himself against known commodity Jas Dennis. He stops by Tre's gym — a small, dilapidated operation with a heavily worn ring as the centerpiece of Joey Wade's set design — for a short workout before the fight. He also uses the session as an opportunity to invite his trainer and mentor to what he confidently expects to be a monumental personal and professional victory. Bolden's brawny physique and athletic grace make him look at ease in the ring as he overflows with the energy and ambitious naïveté of a young dreamer. From this (potentially) historic day on, he sees a straight path to fame and fortune that will put Jas Dennis' moderate success to shame. Like a son seeking approval from his stiff upper-lipped father, Donell casually pokes and prods at Tre until he finally agrees to attend the evening's fight, and more important, pay him a celebratory visit afterwards.


    ‘The Opponent’ is really on the ropes

    Elisabeth Vincentelli

    August 7, 2014: The actors in the boxing drama The Opponent don’t pull their punches — which can’t be said of the slack play itself. For nearly two hours, Guy Van Swearingen and Kamal Angelo Bolden dance around each other, trading blows and gritty lines on the ring that’s been erected in 59E59’s smallest theater. You’re close enough to smell the sweat. A former boxer, the middle-aged Tre (Van Swearingen) is now guiding young fighters like Donell (Bolden) at his grotty gym. This is a place for also-rans, not champions, but, just before a key bout, Donell clings to his dream. As Tre makes him run through combinations, the two chat about life, boxing and getting your shot, all the while dodging, parrying, hitting. You feel breathless just looking at them — especially since they never stop talking. The actors’ kinetic commitment, under Karen Kessler’s direction, helps camouflage the lack of drama in Brett Neveu’s script.



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