GOLDEN BOY, Consuming Specs Theatre Company, at the Cornservatory. When Clifford Odets wrote Golden Boy in 1937, both he and the Group Theatre were in desperate need of a hit. Two years earlier Odets had gone from the toast of the town--three of his plays were running on Broadway simultaneously--to persona non grata, when his Paradise Lost was slaughtered by critics. After a well-paid stint in Hollywood, he returned to New York with this tale: the ferociously ambitious Joe Bonaparte, a semisissified 21-year-old amateur violinist, aims to conquer the boxing world. Odets had his smash, and the box-office receipts kept the Group going for two more seasons.
It's unlikely the Consuming Specs troupe will see a similar success with this, its debut production. Director Jennifer Leavitt coaxes some earnest performances from her 14 cast members, most notably Michael Stovic as the overzealous Bonaparte and Mercedes Rohlfs as a former prostitute trying to make good. But even in 1937 critics called the play a Hollywood cliche, and the bluntness of this production does little to counter that criticism. Odets's broad symbolism requires an almost folkloric touch to make it ring true, and this company's devotion to emotional naturalism makes the story feel sadly out of date.