‘Sucker Punch’ at The Studio Theatre by Don Michael Mendoza

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I’m not a big sports fan and have never had an interest in boxing, but The Studio Theatre’s production of Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch brought me into a whole new light, and who knows – I might go see a boxing match in the future.

Set during the 1980’s London race riots, Sucker Punch presents the story of two black teenagers – who happen to be best friends – that try to box their way to a better life in a world dominated by white men.

Walking into the Mead Theatre, I gazed upon the gym designed by regular Studio Theatre Set Designer Dan Conway and the great detail immediately brought me into the world of boxing before it even started. Later, the set amazed me again when it transformed itself from gym to boxing arena with help from the excellent lighting design by Tony Award winner Brian MacDevitt.

Aside from great technical aspects, the show’s cast was nothing less than mesmerizing. Sheldon Best (Leon) and Emmanuel Brown (Troy) – both newcomers to Studio – gave wonderful performances and truly showed their characters’ journeys from adolescent buddies to athletic rivals, which can be attributed to director Leah Gardiner’s sure-hand guidance.

Also, the training Best and Brown received from fight choreographer Rick Sordelet and boxing consultant Gary “Kid” Starl Jr.’s was electrifying and well-executed, and produced exciting boxing matches, especially during the championship fight near the end of the play.

Sheldon Best and Emmanuel Brown in 'Sucker Punch.' Photo: Scott Suchman.

Other outstanding performances came from Sean Gormley (Charlie) – Leon’s boxing mentor and the gym owner bent on achieving boxing notoriety through his talented boxing protégé, and Michael Rogers (Squid) as the Leon’s boxing mentor and father, who cared so much about about his son despite his own addiction to gambling.

Although it took me a while to warm up to Dana Levanovsky (Becky) and Lucas Beck (Tommy), when it came to the more critical times for their characters, they each pulled through and gave the emotional backing needed in the moment. Finally, Lance Coadie Williams (Ray) definitely owned his role as the money-hungry American manager, and although his time on stage was short, he made the audience remember him.

Sucker Punch is a powerhouse night of theatre. Filled with excitement and knockout performances, it packs a wallop. Athletes and non-athletes will love it!

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission.

Featured Picture: Sheldon Best and Emmanuel Brown in Sucker Punch. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Sucker Punch runs through April 8, 2012 at The Studio Theatre – 1501 14th St, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.