Matt Lyle’s The Boxer, presented by Kacie Smith and Ahmad Simmons’ Pursuit Productions over the last four weekends in the Athenaeum’s studio theater, is a great many things. It’s theater presented like a live silent film. It’s side-splitting physical comedy set to brilliant musical accompaniment. It’s a journey into the past, with subtle hints of the present mixed in. Yes, The Boxer is a great many things, but it is NOT a dance show.
This Laurel and Hardy-esque physical comedy is the story of Velma (Amber Snyder), a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to hold a job. When Velma refuses to conform to her fellow bros at the pub by throwing back beer and pinching the bottom of their voluptuous waitress, she’s fired for being a “pansy.” Pansy or not, Velma’s got a mean left hook on her, and winds up, after knocking out his original trainer, landing a job as coach to The Boxer, played by Eric Duhon. What follows is a series of hilarious montages, some a smidge too long, ultimately resulting in the big match between The Boxer and The Bavarian Beast. The Boxer prevails, he and Velma discover they’re in love, and they live happily ever after.
The magic of The Boxer is in its ability to wholly transform the tiny studio theater at The Athenaeum into a silent movie house from the golden age. But in 3-D. This is due in large part to the effort of lighting and projection designer Craig Kidwell, who—through some stroke of genius—managed to light the space in black and white. Kidwell’s impact on The Boxer cannot be underestimated; without him, it might have been “just another show.”
There are a few distinct moments in which Kidwell turns on the technicolor—most notably the dream sequence. Velma imagines an elaborate pas de deux with The Boxer, accompanied by a corps de ballet of bad dance in fluffy ribbon dancer costumes. It’s absolutely hilarious, and the fact that the illustrious Ahmad Simmons is behind this ridiculous romp as choreographer makes it that much better. If audience members went into The Boxer expecting an Ahmad Simmons dance, they came out disappointed. However, Simmons' ability here to demonstrate keen effervescence and a seldom-seen humorous side make for a deepened appreciation of the breadth and depth of his talent.
Simmons and director Kacie Smith, who together make up the whole of Pursuit Productions, have an interesting niche here, and though The Boxer is not a dance show, it puts forward some bits of brilliance that dance fans can surely enjoy. The characters are endearing, the mood not so serious. The interconnected elements of lights, costume, projections, and music were so perfectly coordinated that audience members became truly transported to what we imagine to be an easier time. The Boxer captures the essence of why we go to the theater in the first place—it’s an escape from the doldrums of our day-to-day lives. That’s not to say that “serious” art isn’t important, or can’t be enjoyable. If one were to compare dance to film, there are the rom coms and the psychological thrillers. Some days, it’s nice to just sit back and watch a John Cusack flick like Hot Tub Time Machine, right?