by James Foritano
BOSTON, MA–It’s an unimposing facade and a small stage inside the Boston Playwrights’ Theater at 949 Commonwealth Avenue, so if you take your cues from looks and size, you’re not prepared at all for the tragic grandeur of “Brawler,” authored by Walt McGough, and directed in a world premiere collaboration with Kitchen Theatre Company by M. Bevin O’Gara.
Tragedy, rightly understood, doesn’t seem to appeal to us anymore, the way it did to the ancient Greeks or to Shakespeare. We cherish our “innocence” and bad things just seem to happen to innocent people without their connivance — like extreme weather and ambushes with heavy weapons. Very bad luck, in other words, but unavoidable.
The four characters in “Brawler” are, to different degrees, anything but innocent, in spite of the fact that they are all more or less dedicated to nothing more harmful than the sport of hockey.
As “Brawler” opens, we come upon the first of many fields laid waste. It’s a trashed locker room at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Benches have been pulled up from the concrete floor all around the perimeter. Ripped, glistening steel screws point menacingly at all angles. It’s unsettling, and worse, predictive.
A dark voice comes out of the shower room where “Moose,” played by Greg Maraio, has retreated after giving in, or more precisely, being ‘taken over’ by the impulse which resulted in the trashed locker room.
The Voice, eerily disembodied, hollow, pleading says it’s “Sorry…” An apology, only the first of a series, which seems uncomfortably incommensurate with the whirlwind of destruction some body behind it has certainly caused – maybe Moose’s body. You think?
Moose’s fiancé, Trisha, played by Gigi Watson is perhaps the most innocent of the three collaborators in Moose’s destruction. Is it the power of love which blinds Trish the least to the evil which is tearing Moose, the person, into random impulses of violence?
Trish most often says “Stop!” Putting her own body in the way of this unfolding locker room tragedy when she sees just the flicking tail of the “snake” emerge from her intended’s words or motions — both gambits to violence.
Jerry, played by Marc Pierre, is the uniformed guard of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Jerry is a friend of Moose, or, at least, a friend of Moose’s star power as the fight-ready “enforcer” of his hockey team. Jerry’s loyalties are divided, though, to having the whole Moose as well as the whole locker room and a whole job. Jerry would like to have it all — as do most of us.
The fourth collaborator/conspirator in this tragedy is Odie, played by Anthony Goes, the closest of Moose’s friends. Odie is the kind of “natural” skater/player, possessed of grace and beauty on the ice that Moose will never attain but once aspired to.
But then, raw physical power is what makes Moose “Moose” — what pays the bills, excites the fans, paves the way to winning goals and ultimate championships.
The fact of the tragedy is that Moose wasn’t destined to be only an instrument of raw power. Moose is a made artifact, himself no less a collaborator in the gain to be had from that narrow, constricting and ultimately suffocating role than his friends, employers, lovers, and, not least, fans.
The Greek ideal and, subsequently, Western civilizations of a healthy mind in a healthy body is not only an ideal, but a strong caution as to what happens to everyman’s potential if abused by a diet of surfeit to one and starvation to the other.
When Moose appears from the shower room wholly clad in his hockey “armor” of breast plates and shin guards, the image of a monster, all humanity transformed, appears to the audience — is in fact spoken by Moose himself in one of his by no means rare riffs of sanity.
It’s as if Moose’s sanity is only tolerated periodically by vaster and more operative darker powers, the powers that propelled him to winning fights game after game when any merely brave man would have felt some fear.
Never allowed to be felt, that fear overwhelms. Moose sheds fear on himself, on others, like used skin cells. Fear guides every attempt to befriend the friends, to love the lovers Moose vaguely remembers having back when …
When Moose attacks, no one, friend, foe, lover or self is left standing. One wonders how the actors decelerate after a performance which shares more with possession than the mimicry of lesser acting. Certainly, the script, with its laser focus on the geography and drama of modern tragedy helps, but it’s the acting which reaches down to where words only point.
An ever-timely topic explored and presented with searing insight and the urgency it deserves.
(Walt McGough’s “Brawler” continues through March 18 at The Boston Playwright Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. For more information, call (866) 811-4111 or visit https://www.bu.edu/bpt.)