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Entertainment & Arts

Review: ‘Boxing Lessons’ delivers mayhem and plot twists in a one-two punch

Stephen Tyler Howell and Luke McClure in Boxing Lessons by John Bunzel, directed by Jack Stehlin at
Stephen Tyler Howell, left, and Luke McClure play sons about to tackle their dad’s hoard in New American Theatre’s “Boxing Lessons.”
(Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin)

John Bunzel may be a veteran film and television writer, but he has never wandered far from his roots in the theater, where he has been plying his trade for more than 30 years.

Anyone who has experienced a Bunzel play knows that this writer specializes in the deliberately outrageous — a risky style that sometimes blurs into caricature.

In that sense, “Boxing Lessons,” Bunzel’s new play at the New American Theatre, is true to form: acidic and excoriating. Yet in another sense, it’s so audaciously over the top that it’s a watershed for the playwright. Bunzel’s former Juilliard classmate and frequent collaborator, Jack Stehlin, directs the silliness with considerable finesse.

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The setting is the San Juan Islands and the cluttered cabin of celebrated children’s author Paul Green — a hoarder’s retreat stunningly realized by designers John Iacovelli (set), Josephine Pu-Sheng Wang (lighting) and Christopher Moscatiello (sound).

Green has just been fished out of the bay, his death coming under mysterious circumstances. His dysfunctional family — daughter Judy (Eve Danzeisen), son Ned (Luke McClure) and adopted special-needs son Steve (Stephen Tyler Howell) — have assembled, along with Green’s ex-wife Meg (Susan Wilder), to sort through the clutter and search for Green’s frustratingly elusive will.

Sheriff Bob (Eric Curtis Johnson) is a friend who lends dubious support before he drops a bombshell into this family disunion. Unwelcome arrival Billy (Bruce Nozick) rattles yet more skeletons in Green’s overloaded closets.

Susan Wilder, Stephen Tyler Howell, Luke McClure, Eric Curtis Johson, Eve Danzeisen and Bruce Nozick
The “Boxing Lesson” cast, from left: Susan Wilder, Stephen Tyler Howell, Luke McClure, Eve Danzeisen, Eric Curtis Johnson and Bruce Nozick.
(Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin)

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The fine cast delves deeply into potentially surface characters, navigating Bunzel’s wild plot twists like kids on a carnival ride. At times, Bunzel seems so intent upon upsetting expectations that he violates his own format, as when Judy excoriates Ned for accusing their mother of abuse — something she has been blaming Meg for all along.

Those imperfections don’t detract from the sheer fun of the play. Partners in mayhem, Bunzel and Stehlin have a fine sense of the ridiculous developed over their long association. They are enjoying themselves immensely — and so are we.

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‘Boxing Lessons’

Where: The New American Theatre, 1312 N. Wilton Place, Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, through June 2. Also 3 p.m. May 26 and June 2.

Tickets: $35

Info: (310) 424-2980 and newamericantheatre.com

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Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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