BLADE TO THE HEAT, Apple Tree Theatre. Though Madonna has already laid claim to the anticipated film version of Oliver Mayer's script, there's little star quality to this widely ballyhooed drama about homosexuality in the macho Latino boxing world of 1959. Despite a bang-up Apple Tree staging with excellent fight choreography, a propulsive conga-drum score, and generally effective performances, the play remains flimsy and hackneyed.
It's little surprise that a certain homoerotic component underlies boxing's appeal, but in this tale of the fight for a world championship between homophobic Mantequilla Decima and the sweet but tormented Pedro Quinn, Mayer ignores the opportunity to explore the hypocrisy of macho boxing stereotypes. Instead he provides underdeveloped characters, an unfocused plot, and stock dialogue, faring worst with Decima's sex-obsessed girlfriend, who's reduced to such sports-slut cliches as "I love it when you talk dirty" and "He [Decima] is all man." A subplot about Quinn's failed romance with a James Brown impersonator holds out the possibility of passionate drama but is mired in platitudes ("Love hurts people"); at least it made conservative Apple Tree subscribers uncomfy ("Disgusting! I can't watch this!").
J. Branson's seedy set gets the low-rent boxing world just right: the production looks authentic even if it rarely sounds it. Score this play a TKO in its first and only act. --Adam Langer