The Centre Theater scores a KO with MOLUMBY’S MILLION

by Paul Recupero

Get ready to rumble. The Centre Theater and Iron Age Theatre’s latest production is the world premiere of D.W. Gregory’s comedy slugfest, MOLUMBY’S MILLION. Co-directed by John Doyle and Randall Wise, the play follows a blip in real life boxing legend, Jack Dempsey’s, career, when he faced off against Tommy Gibbons during the summer of 1923. As you might expect, the majority of the play’s conflict takes place outside the squared circle.

Jack Dempsey (Howie Brown) and his manager Doc (Ray Saraceni) argue over their training in a scene from Centre Theater's MOLUMBY'S MILLIONS, running in Norristown PA through November 28.

In 1923 Dempsey was the current heavyweight champion, having won the title from Jess Willard on the Fourth of July, 1919. Prior to his bout with Gibbons, his record was an incredible 64 wins, 4 losses (and 11 decision draws). Dempsey was the biggest attraction the sporting world had to offer at the time, and everybody knew it. Enter oil tycoon Loy Molumby, who reasons that promoting a fight with Dempsey would be just the thing to put the small and unknown town of Shelby, Montana on the map. After some negotiating with Dempsey’s manger, Molumby and the town officials pledge a generous $300,000 for Dempsey to fight.

There’s a problem, though. For all of Dempsey’s success, he is viewed by many to be a draft dodger, having allegedly skipped out on his patriotic duties during World War I. The citizens of Montana and elsewhere aren’t too eager to buy tickets to see Dempsey demolish war hero, Tommy Gibbons. Due to Molumby’s difficulties in raising all the promised money, Dempsey and his manager threaten to walk with what they’ve already been paid, the rumor of which further impedes ticket sales. The town faces ruin, but Dempsey also faces public relations hit if he leaves, which begs the question: how much money is one’s respect worth?

The talented cast of MOLUMBY’S MILLION lives up to the professional standards previously set by the Centre Theater. As Dempsey, Howie Brown portrays a charismatic lead caught between the glamour of fame and his love of the game. Ray Saraceni, as Dempsey’s manager Doc Kearns, is a joy to watch as he realistically sells large characterizations without chewing the scenery. Anthony M. Giampetro as Molumby, along with Adam Altman and Dave Fiebert, play believable, good ol’ small town bumpkins caught in way over their heads. The story is told primarily through the eyes of the press. Luke Moyer as veteran newspaperman, Damon Runyon, and Rachel Semigran as fashion reporter turned sportswriter, Neysa, share great chemistry as each attempts to “out scoop” the other. Moyer’s perfect comic timing provides many chuckles throughout.

All in all, Gregory’s dialogue does an admirable job of capturing the fast-paced feel of the comedies of the 30s and 40s, which was her intent. While there isn’t a slow moment in the piece, the end is rather abrupt and seems to leave certain plot pieces (such as Dempsey’s relationship with his manager) unresolved.

The appropriately simple yet functional set, designed by Wise, features the semblance of a large boxing ring, which at times also becomes a bedroom, a bar, a movie studio, and a town hall convention center. Ben Levan’s lighting keeps with the rapid pace of the show, effortlessly transitioning one scene to the next. The main event is the brief but exciting heavyweight bout. Philadelphia area fight choreographer, Dave Mason, who also plays Gibbons, has impressively staged the back-and-forth championship match, making best use of the entire space.

Although it is based upon real life characters and an actual match, no prior knowledge of history (or boxing) is needed to enjoy MOLUMBY’S MILLION; the script and performances do a fantastic job of driving the plot home. Even if your blood lust is somewhat tepid, this production is highly recommended.

by D. W. Gregory
Directed by John Doyle and Randall Wise
November 5 – 28, 2010
The Centre Theater (in collaboration with Iron Age Theatre)
208 DeKalb Street
Norristown, PA 19401

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