Fight Fest roundup No. 2
Fri Dec 18 2009
Week two at the Brick Theater's Fight Fest brought many more uppercuts, fan kicks, and swordplay. The theme of this week, however, seemed to be clever (if slightly unconventional) storytelling. From prehistory to a Connecticut living room, the second half of Fight Fest was once again a testament to variety. As we travel forward and back in time and space, the binding thread of these pieces is one of love, humanity and all-around ferocity. I had a blast seeing the work of all of these companies. This was truly a successful venture by the Brick, and hopefully something they explore again. Stage combat is an unsung art form, truly a niche market. So, once a year, it would be nice to have a place where, regardless of context, everyone can feel like a badass. And if you missed the festival due to holiday madness, you may be in luck: There's talk of extending some performances into the new year.
Craven Monkey and the Mountain of Fury
It's oddly refreshing to see a linear story with a beginning, middle and end these days—one with climax and resolution, hero and villain. Craven Monkey delivers just that. Set before the dawn of man, it is the heart-wrenching story of a monkey on a mission. It is told entirely in hilarious, nature-show voiceover narration by writer-director Jeff Lewonczyk (a TONY contributor), with beautiful physical characterizations by the actors. After being ostracized from his tribe, the monkey (Adrian Jeviki) decides that the best way to get back at them would be by rolling a giant boulder down a mountain and crushing them all. Along his way, his is noticed by a Mother Earth figure who dislikes his interference with the balance of nature and sends all manner of beasts to try and stop him. This show is worth checking out for the costumes alone—sparkly, hairy, vibrant realizations of a world without rules, designed by Julianne Kroboth. But the actors' spot-on, endearing performances are what make this show thrive. Although they have no dialogue, they bring fantastic creatures to life. Taking a backseat to the story is the fighting itself, as it is mainly based in capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian form of movement that combines martial arts and dance) and not really too brutal or realistic. It doesn't matter, however. As this fairy tale full of whimsy and sweetness comes to life, you'll forget you're supposed to be watching people beat the crap out of each other. Remaining Performances: Fri 18 at 8pm.
Part history lesson. Part time warp. All ass-kicking. The folks at En Garde Entertainment show us stage combat as art. Beginning with a caveman battle and ending with a modern-day bar brawl, Evolution is a 90-minute retrospective on the history of combat. This piece has 23 actors using 68 weapons to perform 16 episodic fights. It's impressive and a true testament to how hard the directors and students (En Garde is a year-round stage-combat academy) have worked to pull this all together. But what is so striking about the piece directors Alexandra and David Dean Hastings have cooked up is how it treats the art of combat. Each (wordless) fight has interludes and story lines, which provide context and a sense of history. We see, if only briefly, what these battles meant to people: matters of life and death, honor and patriotism. The most moving moment occurs in the finale, where the cast assembles to mark out the path of history leading from Og with his rocks and bones, to a simple man in a simple suit who simply presses a button. There is darkness; there is light; there are swords and guns and axes and cold, hard fists. It is, quite simply, everything you never knew you wanted to know about fighting. Closed.
Deck the Hallmans
Improvisation is probably not a word one would want to hear tossed around at an event like this one, but with this ridiculous yuletide romp, it makes perfect sense. The Hallmans are a piece of lost Americana, a family just like yours. The sweet, sensible mother, the wise, pipe-smoking father, the kooky aunt, the sassy grandmother, her Latina nurse, the twins who keep swapping genders, the desperate neighbor and the uncle who's not quite related to anyone—all are gathered together to celebrate Christmas in Connecticut. But throw in a few random suggestions from audience members and it becomes a whole new play—every single night. Led by director Audrey Crabtree as Dave, the security guard at the Hallmans' gated community, audience members are coaxed into revealing personal details about their own families in an attempt to connect with the awkward, adorable figures onstage. With only a skeletal script, the actors of Hallmans do an excellent job of setting up what little story there is. They all have a strong sense of their characters, which helps them tremendously in getting from one place to the next. It's not high art by any means, and the fights seem to happen out of nowhere, but the piece itself is silly, stupid fun. And let's be real: Secretly, you've always wanted to take a swing at your creepy uncle. Remaining Performances: Sat 19 at 11pm.
Power Burn 3
If you're into seeing hot, flexible girls beat the crap out of each other, then sell off your tickets to the roller derby and check out this corporate comedy. Seven sirens with punny names (see Willa Steele and Helen Heels) are employed at a B-list company hocking workout tapes. When shy, bookish Willa (Angela Sharp) and strong, sexy Helen (Megan Stern) are both up for the same promotion, they take it to the streets, along with their respective posses, to duke it out for supremacy. Despite the clever, quick actors' best efforts, the play flails a bit in execution. The characters are all written as predictable female stereotypes—except for Gayle Force, who talks as if she's lost in the 1940s (which makes no steps toward cracking the ideas of feminism). It turns out looking cute, and the fighting (though brutal and fun to watch) seems like a novelty. There are moments of delightful comedy: Honor Mark (Rin Allen) and Justice Goode (Becky Yamamoto) have a Pinky and the Brain repartee. And the awkward romance between Willa and Guy, the office temp (Adam Lerman), offers some sweetness, but ultimately they are lost in the plot. This is a simple story from a clever idea, with far too many layers for it to work properly. But overall, strong performances make you root for individual characters, even as they body slam each other. You go, girls. Remaining Performances: Sat 19at 5:30pm, Sun 20 at 1pm.