Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy" is perilously melodramatic: The drama about a ghetto kid who gives up the violin for the boxing ring often moves its audience with shots to the gut, rather graceful counterpunches.
Director Jamie Baker, in the Orange Repertory Theatre's first offering, evidently recognizes the play's perils, generally using a spare approach that lightens the heavy sentimentality. But Baker is inconsistent--one moment the reins are held tight, the next the actors are allowed indulgent dramatics.
At one end is Chris Utley's performance as a shady boxing promoter who exploits the young fighter, Joe. Utley is resolutely low-key, a menacing figure who intimidates with a sneer instead of a shout. Diane Dale also offers an understated portrayal as Lorna, the soiled dove who loves Joe but marries his manager.
But what happened to Jim Matthis as the manager, Moody? Matthis overdoes Moody's anger at being a loser who never got the chance to get ahead. Nearly every line is a cry of existential angst. Keeping Moody so overwrought tends to make his pain seem irrelevant.