BWW Reviews: Footwork is Everything in IN MY CORNER, a New Play by Lizbeth Hasse and Joe Orrach at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

September 8
10:01 AM 2013

Footwork is everything for storyteller, pugilist and hoofer Joe Orrach, a "Nuyorican" who grew up in Farmingdale, Long Island by way of the Bronx. His one man show IN MY CORNER uses boxing, tap dance and music to tell a universal tale of fathers and sons with a Latin accent, chronicling Joe's unusual journey, his narrative all the while accompanied by the riffs and rhythms of Latin, jazz and rock 'n roll. It is the story of a street smart, wise guy Puerto Rican kid from New York City who comes of age in the ring and at the barre.

The play follows Orrach's life from his early years being raised by an Italian mother who was always cooking beans and rice to his time spent with his overbearing Puerto Rican father who taught him how to "do it his way" in even the smallest of tasks. The youngest of four siblings, Orrach shares how he admired his oldest brother Billy, a "gorilla" of a man who first encouraged him to pursue a successful career as a boxer.

Joe Orrach hung up his gloves as US Air Force Welterweight Champ and started dancing on the street corner of Broadway and 72nd St. in New York City. There, Gregory Hines found him and brought him inside, giving him his start. Since then he has tap danced throughout the world with Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde and Savion Glover, as well as with some of the old masters like the Nicholas Brothers, Honi Coles, Charles "Cookie" Cook, Chuck Green and Lon Cheney.

Anyone familiar with Gregory Hines unique "down on the ground" tap style will see parallels in Orrach's fast and furious footwork which really takes off as soon as his tap shoes come on halfway through the 75 minute show. Orrach seemed to fly across the stage! Although I am sure the steps are difficult, Orrach's ease with his body and athletic movements make his work seem effortless and so engrossing I could have watched him dance all night! And major kudos go to his amazing band, Matthew Clark (piano), Ronnie Gutierrez (percussion), and Eugene Warren (bass), who keep the pace as well as the place jumping.

The brilliant minimalist set adds to the focus on his story with Orrach simply changing his shirt from choices on an onstage hat rack, using a chair to suggest many different places, or using what appeared to be a chain as a jump rope or his father's punishing belt. The most striking set element is the tiny embedded lights which create a boxing ring when illuminated and disappear just as quickly.

"This is a very powerful, emotionally charged piece that taps into universal themes of fathers and sons," explains the show's director Jeremiah Chechik. "What's so extraordinary is the way that dynamic creeps up on you because it's played out in such an entertaining way."

I agree wholeheartedly and hope you take my advice and get tickets to see this amazing one-man magical theatrical event.

IN MY CORNER
Written by Lizbeth Hasse and Joe Orrach
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik, Starring Joe Orrach
Original music and musical direction by Matthew Clark
Music ensemble: Matthew Clark (piano), Ronnie Gutierrez (percussion), Eugene Warren (bass)
Produced by Beth Hogan and Lizbeth Hasse
Presented by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Performances take place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm and Sundays @ 2pm*, Sept. 6 through Nov. 3. (*On Sunday, Sept. 8 only, the performance will be @ 5 p.m. with no 2pm. matinee.) Tickets are $30. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to www.OdysseyTheatre.com.

IN MY CORNER production photos by Enci Box.

Joe Orrach in foreground.
In back: Matthew Clark on piano, Eugene Warren on bass, Ronnie Gutierrez on percussion

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