Requiem for a Heavyweight

Fifty Foot Penguin Theater

The website for the foundation named after Jerry Quarry rather poignantly boasts that he was "the greatest heavyweight never to win the title." That may have been so, but by the time of his death in 1999 the fighter was unable to dress himself, his mind a ruin collapsing in on itself from the effects of dementia pugilistica. It's certainly not an unexamined truth that boxing chews up athletes and, often as not, leaves them bereft in body and pocketbook. Rod Serling's 1956 drama centers on "Mountain" McClintock (Zach Curtis), a 14-year veteran of a galaxy of beatings who is pronounced medically unfit for further fisticuffs. The problem? His manager, Maish (Steve Sweere), has come out on the bad end of a bet he made against McClintock, and needs a cash infusion in order to save himself from a beat-down of the less sporting variety. So it's time to exploit "Mountain" one more time, a grinding inevitability partly lessened by Grace (Karla Reck), an employment counselor who sees the softy beneath the grizzled brute. Curtis is excellent, done up in gnarly makeup (cauliflower ears, a Rothko where his eye should be). He lends "Mountain" a sweetness that seems to hint at why he has failed to scale the heights of his sport. Sweere is thoroughly despicable, as he should be, with Maish alternately wheedling and shouting in the cause of saving his own ass. Matt Sciple directs the cast in this Fifty Foot Penguin production, leaving in all the anachronistic tough-guy talk and dock-worker accents. This is a heavy dose of post-World War II existential angst, American style, and when "Mountain" goes off to meet his final dismal humiliation, another fighter comes along and the process begins anew. Punch all you want, Serling seems to say, the system will still lay you low until you're willing to make a spectacle of yourself to stay alive.

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