nytheatre.com review by Joe Beaudin
August 16, 2009
Boxers and boxing. Always fascinating. And when you walk in and sit down to watch Fancy Footwork you are immediately transported to a boxing ring: The sound of drums mimicking a punching bag being used, the stage as an outline of a ring with two stools on opposite ends, and the image of two shirtless men intensely shadow boxing and jump roping.
Fancy Footwork, written by Miriam Gallagher, is the story of two Irish boxers, the young newcomer Joe and the veteran old-timer, "Tornado" Tom. Tom holds the title, and Joe is about to fight him for it. It is an introspective journey into their personal lives and the present state of their boxing careers. Each boxer is heavily influenced by the most important people surrounding them. Joe is flanked by his girlfriend Marguerite who tries to persuade him to give up the grueling career and marry her, and by Billy, who is the referee and a boxing expert, and Joe's most trusted friend in the business. "Tornado" Tom's smarmy manager, Larry the Lid, is the person calling the shots for the aged boxer, pushing him in a sketchy direction in order to retain his glory.
The play is essentially a character piece, as the story itself does not offer much complexity. The most interesting character for me was Billy, played by Mark Byrne. Billy was once a boxer and is now offering his expertise and passion to the young Joe. What is most intriguing about this character is his passion in describing the art of boxing, and the character's use of imagery to convey that passion. Byrne captures the intensity and fire of the character (as well as a perfect Irish accent) and does a nice job of inhabiting a dual role—during a boxing scene, he portrays both referee and commentator all at once, simultaneously playing each part with specificity.
Another highlight is the fight choreography of Frank Shattuck. I was a little skeptical at first as to how they would truthfully convey a boxing match, but in the end I was impressed. This production may not have the budget of even one of the six Rocky movies (that's right, there were six), but Shattuck is able to create a genuine boxing match with live sound effects and all.
As much I was intrigued by some of the characters, the story left me wanting more. The main characters' arcs were not developed enough for my liking. There seemed to be a lot of setup, but not enough resolution. And in the end I did not feel compassion nor did I feel hatred for any of the characters, which I often like to feel. However, if you love boxers and boxing metaphors as much as I do, then Fancy Footwork will fulfil your needs.