The room was silent, all eyes focused on the old black man lying on a table in the middle of a boxing ring. He was wearing a black tuxedo and his arms were folded across his chest. At first glance he looked like a priest, but as he shouted “I ain’t scared! I’m Joe Louis!” the audience understood he was no priest. He was Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1937 to 1949.
The biographical play Joe Louis: An American Romance, written by David Sherman and directed by Guy Sprung, takes the audience on a veritable roller coaster ride of the boxer’s life. The story is told by the demented and penniless 66-year-old Louis, who watches his life flash before his eyes.
The entire performance takes place in a boxing ring, in which actors take turns showing off their talent. Adding to the stage action are two screens on both sides of the wall, showing black and white footage of the real Louis’ life in and out of the ring. Young Louis, played by former Concordia student Samuel Platel, never fights an actual boxing opponent. During the matches, he boxes alone in the ring, aligning his movements with the clips of real Louis. This makes the staging of Joe Louis unique and creative, and the screens look great.
The play lasts approximately 90 minutes, which is quite long given that it lacks focus. It seems there is no constant theme throughout. At first, the focal point of the play is the triumph of African-American people, but later on the audience comes across other themes such as feminism and Nazism. This leaves viewers somewhat confused as to what lesson they should be taking with them after the show.
Unfortunately, most of the performances could not save Joe Louis. The performances of the female actors were forgettable and dreary. Platel was also not up to par: his toned body was probably the only thing that made him stand out from the crowd. Veteran actor Ardon Bess as old Louis deserves praise for his phenomenal and refreshing performance. Overall, Joe Louis was good, but more emphasis should have been put on the fact that Joe Louis was one of the first African-Americans to achieve widespread popularity in the 20th century. Especially during Black History Month, we need to highlight the great effect he had on changing perceptions of black people both in America and around the world.
Joe Louis: An American Romance runs until Feb. 20 at the Bain St-Michel, 5300 St-Dominique. Tickets cost $20 and $15 for students and seniors.