Credit: Joe Mazza

Cauliflower ears and all, Mark Pracht turns in a remarkable performance as the declining “punchy” Mountain McClintock in this revival of the great Rod Serling’s boxing play from 1956 (also the basis for a TV show and film). After a swaying, wordless opening fight sequence that mimes the crush and tumult of a beatdown, McClintock receives doctor’s orders never to set foot in the ring again. Now that he can’t box, McClintock’s manager, Meysh Reznick (Patrick Thornton), guilts him into betraying his only asset—the knowledge that he never threw a fight—to brave the seamy underworld of celebrity wrestling where “everybody knows there’s a fix on.”

John Mossman’s staging in the round at the Artistic Home allows us to see every side of Pracht’s wobbly but taut McClintock, whose voice quavers with the accumulated rattling of 111 bouts. The fighter’s crude stranglehold on something he prays is dignity leads to his bleak self-betrayal with an inevitable slide that Pracht steers down masterfully. Reznick, a bottom-feeder who only wants McClintock to wrestle so he can salvage a bet he made against the fighter and lost, receives a hoarse, affecting but sometimes limp reading from Thornton. His character is a flailer and whiner but not always to such extremes.

Serling (The Twilight Zone) was admittedly a machine when it came to plot. But if the idea that McClintock’s move from boxer to wrestler constitutes an utter fall from grace is a tad on the well-made play side, the show itself is still—ugh, cue the Rocky theme—a knockout.   v