Written by Walt McGough, Directed by M. Bevin O'Gara; Scenic Design, Cristina Todesco; Lighting Design, Evey Connerty-Marin; Sound Design, Andrew Duncan Will; Costume Design, Penney Pinette; Movement & Fight Choreographer, Misha Shields; Stage Manager, Katherine Humbert; Assistant Stage Manager, Beirut Balutis

CAST: Greg Maraio, Marc Pierre, Anthony Goes, Gigi Watson, Ed Hoopman

A world premiere, produced in collaboration with Kitchen Theatre Company, Ithaca, New York; Performances through March 18 at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA; Box Office (866) 811-4111 or

A play about a warrior cast aside should resonate in a time when our country has been involved in too many wars for too many years, resulting in a surplus of military veterans suffering from a variety of ills, emotional as well as physical. Inspired by Sophocles' story of Ajax, a Greek hero of the Trojan war, playwright Walt McGough transfers the action to the hockey arena in the world premiere of Brawler, exploring what happens to an "enforcer," the team tough guy, when he is beset by injuries and his skills have waned. Put on a regimen of pain pills, relegated to the minor league, and sliding on a slippery slope to irrelevance, can the former hero of the ice rink find an outlet for his violent urges and reclaim his life?

Moose (Greg Maraio) is damaged goods, playing out the string at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence after being sent down from the Boston Bruins, now fighting for the Stanley Cup with Moose's bff Odie (Anthony Goes) in a starring role. When his team is eliminated from the playoffs, Moose, high on painkillers, flips out and trashes the locker room, creating a rift with his buddy Jerry (Marc Pierre), the security guard, and alarming his nurse girlfriend Trisha (Gigi Watson). They summon Odie to the DD Center to help them deal with Moose and fix the mess before he gets into more trouble, but Moose has an agenda that none of them can foresee.

Brawler is directed by M. Bevin O'Gara, Producing Artistic Director of Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, New York, the next stop for the play after it concludes its run at Boston Playwrights' Theatre. O'Gara has a long resumé of good work in Boston, including Elliot Norton and IRNE Award-winning productions, and she stages Brawler effectively with her design team (Cristina Todesco, scenic; Evey Connerty-Marin, lighting; Andrew Duncan Will, sound; Penney Pinette, costume), and realistic movement and fight choreography by Misha Shields. The actors are all in, but the characters are unevenly drawn, leaving the cast to scramble to fill in the blanks, and way too much of the dialogue is delivered at fever pitch (ALL CAPS), lacking nuance.

As the protagonist, Moose has a lot of meat on the bone and Maraio dives into the part like a carnivore. His steady forward progress as a presence in the local theater community has been gratifying to watch and this role challenges him to show a different side, a rough exterior desperately trying to conceal his character's vulnerability. Despite the fact that Moose is offstage for a good portion of the play, he draws our attention, interest, and sympathy far more than the other characters, an indication that he is more fully realized. Maraio is rarely still, and both his physical pain and his emotional angst are palpable.

McGough is fortunate to have a trio of capable actors in the other roles, but he needs to give them greater dimension. They spend too much time arguing with each other, figuratively wringing their hands over how to manage Moose's behavior, when it is unclear why they think it is their responsibility. When they acknowledge (too late) that he has a problem with painkillers and that the hockey team management is complicit, none of them is willing to take on that elephant in the room. After all of the shouting and blaming, it seems that the most compelling point in Brawler is given short shrift. Moose is a tragic figure whose identity is being taken from him, who is being systematically destroyed by the game he loves, even as he is ill-served by the people who love him.

The play runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission, but it takes a good ten to fifteen minutes to rev up before the plot starts to unfold. In the beginning, Moose is in the shower room (offstage), occasionally shouting out to Jerry and Trisha in the locker room, and he doesn't enter until Odie arrives. When all four characters are interacting in the same room, the personal relationships come into focus and the underlying conflicts emerge. However, there is insufficient time to resolve them before the four go their separate ways and there is a lack of closure. Moose is in a hell of his own making, without a vision of how to escape it (once a gladiator, always a gladiator), but his friends have other options and it is unlikely that they would choose to follow him down that path. Still, in his absence, they wander without Moose's star to guide them.

Photo credit: Kalman Zabarsky (Marc Pierre, Gigi Watson, Greg Maraio)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman

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