Cornered, a play by Jim Burke, carefully confines its characters, Vinne (Christopher Moore) and Rex (Howard Rosenstein), within a boxing ring. Despite their restricted space, Moore and Rosenstein keep their witty back-and-forth fresh and captivating.
Vinne and Rex encounter challenges beyond the difficulty of working within a small square box throughout. The duo, along with the characters Doxy and Little T, reveal their world of boxing through quick entertaining banter, which is nuanced by thick Manchester accents. Despite their intonation and the venue’s echoing acoustics, Rosenstein and Moore’s quips are crisp.
The plot is not elaborate. The boxers prepare for Little T’s fight, discuss dodgy Doxy and his schemes, and comment on the hierarchy of the tough men behind the boxing ring. Vinne and Rex remain on the edge of a high stakes boxing game where trust is key. Unfortunately, they both have their own agenda, which exposes their true loyalties and leaves both scrambling. The spark that fuels the play, however, is not the outcome of the plot, but the way Moore and Rosenstein execute the nuanced highs and lows in Burke’s fast moving dialogue.
Burke’s clever writing is carried by the chemistry between Moore and Rosenstein, who maintain brilliant comedic timing both vocally and physically. They establish the relationship between their characters early. Rex is the corner man who knows his way around the ropes, and is often frustrated by his apprentice Vinne, the young enthusiast. The director, Paul Van Dyck, choreographed the duo to perfection. He creates beautiful and varied stage pictures to illustrate the fluctuating dynamics between Vinne and Rex, never allowing them to appear static on stage.
The staging is particularly effective when Vinne mimics Rex’s pacing across the ring, their footwork adding to the rhythm of their speech layering the mounting tension. Moore’s erratic physicality, and the range and speed of his voice is incredibly entertaining. He struts exuberantly around the ring, jabbing the air, his fists as sharp as his words, until Rex tethers him. As Rex, Rosenstein limps around, chewing loudly on chocolates while he curtly spits out his lines, his weight slowing Vinne down.
Rex’s impatience with Vinne’s apparent lack of understanding creates moments of comedy because of its repetitive nature. Rosenstein harnesses his energy so that it is visibly simmering, ready to erupt when provoked by Vinne’s feigned ignorance. Rosenstein colours in various ways each time his character loses his temper with Vinne. He takes advantage of dramatic pauses, and has impeccable timing, leaving the audience hanging in anticipation of his next move.
While there is little to complain about Van Dyck’s superbly directed production, his use of sound to separate the play is distracting. He opens the play by blasting music, as though it is coming from Vinne’s headphones. This effectively grabs attention, but the use of the audio break to inform the audience of the boxing match during a blackout, along with the actors’ exit, lowers the energy significantly. Rosenstein and Moore are able to recapture the former intensity, but the time that it takes for the limping Rex to get back into the ring drags out the transition.
From the script to the risky staging in an unconventional space, this production is polished and highly compelling on all fronts. Foul-mouthed and funny, Cornered is a knockout performance.
Cornered is presented by Rabbit in a Hat Productions in collaboration with Infinithéâtre, running until March 17 at Bain St-Michel (5300 St-Dominique). Student tickets $20.