Richardson — Minneapolis-based Sossy Mechanics returned to DFW with the nostalgic Trick Boxing: Swingin’ in the Ring, a hit from WaterTower Theatre’s 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival. Plot and character additions created a fresh face for this run at the Charles W. Eisemann Center in Richardson, but the clever, entertaining essence of the show remained the same. Husband and wife team Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan combined expertise in theater and dance, respectively, added some puppets, and delivered a humorous but simple production that still managed to evoke a range of emotions.
Set in 1940s New York, the story follows several people wrapped up in the devious world of gambling and boxing. McClellan plays the two female characters, while Sostek manages a plethora of male roles. The evening opens with Buck, a former boxing manager, trying to hawk potatoes to the audience while lamenting about the unfortunate events leading to his sad state.
Enter Rocky, an aspiring boxer, and his sister Bella, a dancehall instructor. Buck gave Rocky the break he’s hoping for and begins a series of matches. At the same time, the manager lured in the unsuspecting apple-seller David, who showed a knack for evading punches. But Buck had his own motives, that of avoiding the wrath of Tommy, a terrifying kingpin in the boxing world, so he used his new recruits as pawns in a rigged match scheme.
Bella had a stake in both men, one being her brother and the other as her customer. When tragedy hit, she used her dance knowledge and growing devotion to David to outwit Buck and Tommy and enjoyed a happy ending. David the underdog beat everyone in the boxing and gambling game and also won the girl.
The narrative moved a little slow at first, with the majority of the excitement happening in the second act, but it was well worth it in the end. While the show had plenty of comedic elements, most were of the chuckling variety, with only the few puppet scenes eliciting a loud, hearty laugh. Sostek and McClellan’s vivid performances evoked a subtle but deep sense of empathy. The audience worried with Bella during the fights and felt her heart break. Patrons swooned with her and David during their romantic dances, and cheered as the show ended with a mighty kiss. It was a nicely-paced, satisfying ride of drama, comedy, and happiness.
The moments of puppetry depicting the fights were an absolute hoot; if only more were included. The figures are what you would find in a kid’s toy box, and Sostek maneuvered and narrated them like a youngster playing make believe. David turned into a soft, baby-like doll, and his opponents consisted of a skeleton, a muscled action figure, and sock monkey.
Perhaps one of the more surprising elements was Sostek’s ability to flawlessly transition between characters and create a unique physical quality for each one. He puffed out his chest and donned a thick accent, with the slight sound of an uneducated man, for Rocky, while his posture straightened and speech grew smooth for Buck. He portrayed David as a slight man, as he caved his sternum a little and looked up when addressing another male. The change to Tommy was the most drastic, as Sostek’s face crumpled in and he assumed an ape-like posture to show a weathered man who has suffered one too many boxing incidents.
Dancing sequences consisted of what you might see in an old musical, using ballroom, swing, tap, and general theatrical moves of the time period. The show contained less dancing that expected, based on the various descriptions of the show, but they delivered a cohesive variety and down-to-earth believability. Rather than the flashy, explosive theatrical dancing one might see in a musical, the dance segments seamlessly blended with the action. McClellan was clearly the more experienced dancer with a deliciously smooth and vivacious quality, but Sostek admirably held his own, especially when depicting her two different dancing partners.
Swing dance and tap moves mixed with playground-style rhymes for a unique boxing warm-up for Rocky, while David and Bella engaged in smooth, romantic ballroom dances that leaned towards a tap soft shoe sequence. A quicker lindy hop gave David the moves he needed to conquer the boxing ring, and he and Bella celebrated with an athletic, jazzy closing number reminiscent more of Gene Kelly rather than the Fred Astaire quality of their earlier dances.
Simply put, it was a genuine, lovely show. The manner in which they blended various performing elements showed creativity and provided welcomed clarity and heart. Although children and teens might be turned off by its old-fashioned nature, it’s a family-friendly production. DFW needs to see more of this duo.