Like a prisoner who has spent most of his adult life behind bars and can't adjust to life on the outside, Mountain McClintock (Michael Harrity), the used-up boxer of Rod Serling's 50-year-old teleplay, has been told his boxing days are over, and he is bewildered. Slightly addled and dreaming of the glory times when he was almost the heavyweight champion, he struggles to make sense of his life. His loyalty to his handlers conflicts with his prospects, and the tale remains as powerful today as it was yesterday.
His story is familiar: A manipulative manager, Maish Resnick (Steven Robert Wollenberg on the night reviewed), has acquired gambling debt he can't pay off, and his only hope seems to be McClintock. He cooks up a deal for the boxer to dress up as a mountain man and enter the wrestling game. Mountain's only hope is a young employment counselor, Grace Miller (Selah Victor), who sees the human being behind the battered face and defeated attitude.
Harrity is very affecting as the tragic figure. Director Howard Storm knows what to do with this character, but he is less effective with his villains. Wollenberg makes a good case for the conflicted manager, but his understated manner at times fails to clinch his evil side or accentuate what is left of his good intentions. Additional bookies, mobsters, and such come off as cartoonish, inadvertently breaking the noir mood necessary. Victor is effective, as is Daniel Keough as Mountain's concerned trainer.
The play has 14 scenes, and with each one a blackout occurs and scenery is moved. Storm should have given his audience more credit for its ability to make the mental shift, as this is a mood-breaker and doesn't work as well as it would have on television.
Dedicated to staging revivals of great plays, Chestnuts, a new wing of Theatre West, is commendably affording new audiences a chance at seeing productions that might have been lost to history. Even with several uneven performances and sporadic inertia in the emotional impact, this is a praiseworthy endeavor.