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Shadowboxing

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Bathed in blood-red light, within the squared ring, the lean, sinewy young man shadowboxes--dances on his toes, shoots lightning jabs with his left, his right, does steel-spring pushups, jumps rope with a fancy twist, the rope spinning fast as a hummingbird's wings, becoming invisible. "Warm up! Warm up!" he barks with clenched jaw. Finally, sweaty but not at all winded, he dons a hooded gray shirt. With savage grace, propelled by inner fury, he has shown us boxing as art, as theatre, as dance, and as survival factor. A scrappy, gutsy kid growing up on Pittsburgh's mean streets and fighting every day of his life, he was tough because he had to be. "Muhammad Ali was my hero growing up," he confides. The brothers got one pair of boxing gloves for Christmas. The kid was the youngest so he got the left one.

Grant Kramer aims for the heart and scores a TKO in his masterfully performed self-written solo show, masterfully directed by old master Sal Romeo. We're told Kramer was a successful welterweight pro in Pennsylvania who "won many of his 100 bouts," some of them street fights and bar fights. The 147-pound gladiator once faced a 275-pound opponent and knocked him out. But an over-the-hill "old man" who hadn't a chance sent the cocky kid down for the count and taught him a lesson. Nowhere is it written that this is his real-life story, but it has to be.

"I'm a street kid," he tells us. "The anger, the fury, is what drives you." Shadowboxing is Kramer's honest expose of this stouthearted street kid's tough battle for honor and self-esteem in the ring and out of it, with his father's stern admonition always ringing in his head: "Real men don't cry." The journey was lonely: "No friends, no family, no nuthin'. Just me and my trainer and my sparring partner." But his trainer proved also a mentor and wise counselor, and his posthumous letter, to be held and read after that crucial bout, proved Dad wrong. Real men can cry--and do.

Kramer is a brilliant performer, and his Shadowboxing scores a knockout. We love the scrappy, scrawny kid for the sentient man he has become.

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