Joe Orrach's heartwarming "In My Corner," a solo autobiography that blends the diverse worlds of prize fighting and ballet, tells the captivating tale of a mouthy young man who followed his passion down a winding trail to a stage career.
The son of a macho Puerto Rican father and long-suffering Italian mother, Orrach was born in the Bronx and grew up in suburban Long Island as something of a bull in a china shop. He was a brawler from the start who fought mostly with words, and, as the youngest of four children with a hotheaded dad, often came out on the short end.
He knew something was wrong, but wasn't quite sure of what until he was tossed from the high school football team and decided to chase a goal that didn't involve teammates or coaches bent on running his life. That was boxing and he spent much of his later adolescence commuting 20 miles to the closest boxing gym.
That took him to the military and eventually to the welterweight championship of the Air Force. When he left the service, he took what he enjoyed most from his boxing — the ballet lessons he used to learn how to move fluidly in the ring — and tried to employ his knack for floating like a butterfly to the trade where fists stung like bees.
After he made that choice, his father didn't talk to him for three years, but he found his passion in the unusual niche he created for himself — the dancing boxer whose act included shadow boxing, jump rope, a rhythmic workout on the speed bag and some of the most energetic tap dancing this side of vaudeville.
Orrach puts that career path into his 75-minute one-man show that also gives him the chance to sing and act and try his hand at impersonations, mainly of members of his family. The result of all this is a delightfully engaging, high-energy presentation that serves as the dancer's signature piece.
The show plays on a large open stage in the Fox Theatre building's Black Box Theatre, which is part of the Oakland School for the Arts. The fanciful set gives plenty of fuel for Orrach's imaginative tale. A couple of rolls of toilet paper, unrolled across the stage, simulates a road, a length of cloth strung around folding chairs creates a boxing ring, and a series of hats helps the actor create his various characters.
Music, a vital part of Orrach's life and the show, is provided by a tight trio of pianist Matt Clark, bassist Eugene Warren and percussionist Micha Patri.
Bay Area theater audiences probably know Orrach best for his long-running engagement with San Francisco's Teatro ZinZanni, where he turned the boxing/dancing character into a more-than-six-year gig at the franchise's San Francisco and Seattle theaters.
His character took many guises over the run — he'd play anything from a car-park valet to a general helper who would perform in sketches until finally arriving in the spotlight to perform his act.
He has a winner in the solo act, as well; it's a definite knockout.
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