On Saturday evening, we went to see The Boxer at the Athenaeum Theater. A friend recommended it to me. The play is effectively a silent movie but as a play. So how does that work? Basically, there is no dialogue; the actors convey the plot through their actions, occasional mouthing of lines, There are some subtitles (and videos) projected overhead. A pianist played throughout the show just like in silent films. It was a charming production.
The basic plot is about a woman who dresses as a man so she can do men’s work. She ends up meeting a boxer. Through a twist of fate, she becomes his trainer for the big fight against a formidable enemy. It’s a sweet and funny tale.
One of the neat things about the show was that the stage had sepia lighting. Everything was bathed in that soft orange color, which enhanced the old timey aspect to the show. Overall, the show captured the spirit of silent movies. The humor hit the right note; much of it was delightfully physical, a necessity given the general lack of words. The characters did a great job in defining themselves through wonderful faces, postures, etc. I think that silent films/plays have to be more physical than talkies. You liked the main character and wanted her to succeed.
And the play continued to confirm my thesis that parties are so much better in silent movies. There is a great scene where all the characters dance in a bar and it’s just so incredibly lively. I think that my impression about the awesomeness of parties is because these films lack words. Without verbal cues, you have to convey the joy of a party through the exaggerated motions, or through dancing. And nothing says a party than a lot of dancing.
One thing that was a bit off for me was an extended dream sequence. It involved fairies conveying the main character around and other mischief but it didn’t really flow with the rest of the show. They even turned off the sepia light so it visually looked different. Generally, I’m not a fan of dream sequences (though I do like surreal things so go figure the confusion). This scene just didn’t work for me.
Despite my one qualm, I think they really did a bang up job. The playwright really kept to the era and avoided throwing in anachronisms or really obvious pop culture references. It was a play written now but in the spirit of the 1910s and 1920s. I really dig that. I’ve seen some lovely silent films but they get too clever and try to muck around with the period. I have the same issue with many murder mysteries about the era as well. I love my steampunk but I’m not sure I like it as silent film material. However, that’s a rule that has been broken by exceptional work.
I hope The Boxer is one of many such productions in the future. I can’t wait to see what’s next. It’s playing until August 31st.
That’s all for now!