OAKLAND -- Every day, we all face choices. Some are small such, as what to have for breakfast or which shirt to wear. Others have more lasting effects, such as moving to a new city or choosing a profession. It's the latter choice that students at Skyline High School have been contemplating these past few months as they rehearse Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy" for an audience.
Made into a 1939 film starring William Holden, "Golden Boy" takes place during the Depression and focuses on Joe Bonaparte, a poor young man who dreams of becoming a violinist. His career path, however, takes a less than harmonious turn when the opportunity to make serious money comes his way. A local fight promoter needs a replacement boxer for an upcoming bout, and Bonaparte steps into the ring, hoping to make enough cash to further his musical career. The lure of fast money and even faster women leads him to choose a profession that could destroy his hands and his musical aspirations with one punch.
Skyline senior Oscar Tsukayama portrays the complex character of Bonaparte.
"It's really not that hard to relate to Joe," he said. "We all make choices every day. As students, ours might not be as big as what Joe faces, but they still impact our lives. For instance, all of us in the cast had to make the choice to give up going to dances, sporting events and other activities just to be in this show. One original cast member had to leave because of a conflict with sports. Our director, Ms. Hunter, makes rehearsals such a priority that it forces us to really organize our lives, to prioritize the things we need to do."
Tsukayama also faced a similar decision between sports and art when he first came to Skyline High.
"I really wanted to play baseball, but I also wanted to be involved in the Performing Arts program," he said. "I couldn't do both. I ended up making the opposite choice from Joe."
"Golden Boy" also mirrors the playwright's struggle between art and materialism. After his early successes with "Waiting for Lefty" and "Awake and Sing!" Odets accepted a writing assignment in Hollywood, intending to use his salary to support the independent theater company that produced his works. The lure of commercial success almost led Odets away from theatrical writing and into the fast-paced Hollywood lifestyle.
Odets' own struggle to remain true to his dream helps him draw the sharply written characters who populate "Golden Boy," his first play to focus more on psychological and personal relationships than social criticism.
"I really like the intensity of Joe and his relationship with Moody, his manager," Tsukayama said. "Joe starts out with so much trust in Moody that changes to resentment and disgust. I just see all this potential and how their relationship could have developed and really changed Joe's life."
While portraying the many facets of Bonaparte has kept Tsukayama on his toes, he has no trouble reconciling the fact that a musician can also be an athlete.
"A good friend of mine plays in a jazz band, and he's one of our drum majors at Skyline," Tsukayama said. "But, he's also one of the strongest men I know. He works out like crazy. I just keep that in mind when developing Joe's character."
The one thing that Tsukayama doesn't agree with in the play is Odets' ending.
"I just wish he would have gone another way," he added. To find out what that ending involves, you'll have to see the show.
"Golden Boy" plays at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 11-13, and at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Dec. 14 Skyline High School's Rawley T. Farnsworth Theatre, 12250 Skyline Blvd., Oakland. Tickets are $12 for adults; $10 for students (presale $8); $8 for seniors; and $10 for children 10 and under. Tickets are available at the door or in advance by calling 510-879-3060, ext. 250.