Sossy Mechanics premiered "Trick Boxing" at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2002. Since then the performance duo of Megan McClellan and Brian Sostek have earned wide acclaim for their plucky show about love, swing dancing and the sweet science. They have revived it at the Guthrie Theater's Dowling Studio, where it opened on Saturday night. It still packs a wallop. "Trick Boxing" will knock you out with its one-two combination of virtuosity and charm.
The story seems torn from the manual typewriter of an old Hollywood screenwriter. A sweet yet naïve young man ends up bobbing and weaving for his life thanks to the greedy manipulations of an opportunistic promoter and his wise-guy connections. He falls in love with the sister of another boxer who met a tragic end and she helps him avoid a similar fate. What saves the day? Well, fancy footwork of course, not to mention a magic watch.
Sostek embodies all of the male roles, deftly shifting his facial expressions and body language to create conversations between two or more people. As the hero Dancing Danny, he is wiry and unassuming. As erstwhile agent Bill Buck the performer puts on an air of false bravado. When an underworld thug arrives on the scene Sostek morphs into a menacing -- if contorted and wheezy --threat. These are just a few of the distinct characters he inhabits.
McClellan imbues her Bella with the sort of moxie that defined screen legends like Ginger Rogers. She has a tough exterior, a quick mind and a heart of gold. When McClellan and Sostek pair up to dance together they literally sparkle with an effortless elegance and perfect timing. But they're also full of surprises. A laundry list of boxing terms (jab, cross, hook, uppercut), for example, offers a witty, fast-moving and fast-talking lesson on the rules of the game.
The boxing scenes are a riot, with Sostek leading the play-by-play using a miniature ring and toys representing Dancing Danny and his opponents, including Johnny the Monkey. These, like so many other moments in "Trick Boxing," prove that some of the best performances come from artists who need rely on nothing more than their talent and a few simple props to create whole worlds on stage. Both McClellan and Sostek are the undisputed champs in this category.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.