By Thomas Tracy
They say boxers make the best dancers. The same could be said about the team behind “Beautiful Burnout,” a frenzied look at the so-called “sweet science” that left me dizzy — and not in a good way.
After witnessing this high-octane pugilistic passion play, appearing for the first time in the U.S. at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO, I felt like I went three rounds with Mike Tyson. The simple story swarmed me with so many superfluous characters and side stories that I had no idea what was going on. Before I knew it, I was down for the count.
The play takes place in Scotland, but this meandering blitzkrieg came straight out of Brooklyn; co-director Steven Hoggett got the idea for “Beautiful Burnout” when he was working on the National Theatre of Scotland’s “Black Watch” at St. Ann’s in 2008. His cast used the showers at the nearby Gleason’s Gym following performances, and Hoggett was enamored by the young boxers he met there.
Thanks to the “Rocky” franchise and movies like “The Fighter” and “Raging Bull,” there are plenty of rules (not all of them Queensberry) on how to make a good boxing drama, but Hoggett ignores most of them.
Instead, his play repeatedly speeds up and sputters as Hoggett jams everything he learned and everyone he met at Gleason’s Gym into a trim 90-minute tale about Cameron Burns (Ryan Fletcher), a young, dumb scrapper who joins an amateur boxing club with dreams of being a big-time contender.
Under the tutelage of trainer Bobby Burgess (Ewan Stewart), Burns and a crew of young pugilists — which include “Million Dollar Baby” clone Dina Massie (Vicki Manderson) as eye candy — soon learn that boxing can crush your spirit as easily as your cheekbones.
But they’re grateful for the beat downs: As Burns and the other fighters are being chewed up and spat out one by one, they think about nothing but the cool nicknames they’re going to use once they get in the ring.
They also do a lot of dancing: The frequent sparring montages are put to pounding club music, making them vaguely reminiscent of Tae Bo videos.
Hoggett and co-director Scott Graham do choreograph the boxing matches well, freezing every punch so we can get a brief glimpse of what’s running through the fighter’s mind at the moment of impact.
Sadly, many of these moments are spent on the banal supporting cast, which is pretty much forgettable. Even Burns’s character isn’t all that interesting.
The play is often saved by its moral center, Carlotta (wonderfully played by Blythe Duff), who kept the audience engaged as she went through the paces of a boxing mom, from the initial fears about her son’s decision to become a boxer to, as she puts it, “becoming a bloody extra in ‘Gladiator,’” then back to worrying over what her young fighter has become.
That dramatic blow is, of course, saved for the last act, but by then, thanks to all the extraneous work out sessions and insignificant side bouts, I had already thrown in the towel.
“Beautiful Burnout” at St. Ann’s Warehouse [38 Water St. between Dock and Main streets in DUMBO, (718) 254-8779], through March 27. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 pm; matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets $60-$70. For info, visit www.stannswarehouse.org.