Fight Fest Roundup: Part 1

fightfestsplashpagelow1As David Cote showed us last week in his videos with Qui Nguyen, Brooklyn's Brick Theater is playing host to 20 days of serious ass-kicking this month. I took in the first four shows this week, and I have some thoughts, some musings, if you will, on the variations of that theme. (Get your tickets here.) The curators of the festival—Nguyen, Timothy Haskell, Michael Gardner and Abby Marcus—have done an excellent job of securing a variety of shows. This week alone we have pirates, assassins, ninjas and the last men on earth. I don't know what's in store for me next week, but there's a good chance I'm going to need a hug afterward.

thebuccaneer1aThe Buccaneer
Inigo Montoya, take note. The swashbuckling hero of writer-director Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum's The Buccaneer is as much a mugging, hapless, yet capable hero as can come out of fantastical Spain. Set in the 15th-century, this old-school telenovela tells the story of a Buccaneer (John Gardner) seeking to avenge the murder of his family by the evil Queen Isabella (played with an extraordinary Catalan lisp by Rebecca White). When the Buccaneer's former fiance shows up with a hired assassin and a little pistol, the engaging and hilarious romp begins. Gardner is himself a trained fencer, and the swordplay is nothing if not technically perfect. Quick and clean, he and the other able fighters manage to pull off convincing danger while keeping it breezy and so much fun to watch. The show concluded its too-short run at Fight Fest on Sunday, but don't worry, it will be performed at the Tank in Manhattan until next Saturday.

butterflyButterfly, Butterfly, Kill Kill Kill!
Everyone loves bad movies. There's something satisfying—nay, inspirational—about them. The folks at Depth Charge drew on this notion in their sendup of Japanese B-movie director Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill. Written, directed by and starring Patrick Harrison, Butterfly is the tale of Hanada, the number two "kirrer" in all of Japan. But Who Is Number One? That's the question they spend a tedious three-quarters of an hour answering. Hanada is hired by a mysterious woman to kill someone (we're not quite sure who) but something goes wrong and he doesn't get the job done. He also has an unexplained obsession with boiled rice. The piece is quite nonsensical, utilizing many a performance-art clich from a 35-mm film projection to simulated sex where paper butterflies come out from a girl's panties. Most surprisingly, however, is while an exploration of a violent genre, there is no actual combat in Butterfly. Shootings happen, people die, but the heavily choreographed yet weaponless "bang-bang-you're-dead" business just isn't as compelling. They don't take themselves too seriously, however, and through the exaggerated Japanese accents (many of which are unintelligible at times) to the nearly Kabuki makeup, they seem to revel in the badness of their material. Remaining Performances: Sat 12 at 9:30pm, Sun 13 at 7pm.

last-lifeLast Life
In a washed-out end-of-days, there are people hiding in the woods. They are a violent breed, periodically biting off each other's appendages, stabbing, kicking, and slicing their way to supremacy. But what are they fighting for? How did all of this happen? I wish I could tell you. In Eric Sanders and Timothy Haskell's edgy, inconsistent drama, the dialogue seems to get in the way of the ass kicking. The story isn't there, and the scenes, with the actors performing in chairs not facing one another, are hard to follow. What I did piece together was this: Vadir (Taimak Guarriello) is one of the last men standing after some sort of massive war. He's searching for something and keeps running into the people in the woods. But we're never quite sure what he's running from, or towards, or who we should fear more. The fighting is top-notch, however; a collection of gritty, dirty street-fights, with lots of blood, some bits of brains, and a couple of ears. The danger is there, the fear is there. But the story is noticeably absent. Remaining Performances: Wed 16 at 9:30pm, Sat 19 at 2:30pm.

ninja1The Ninja Cherry Orchard
The title of this play is instant comedy. To picture a 14th-century stealth assassin running around provincial Russia with a katana is absurd and slightly wonderful. However, in this incarnation of Anton Chekhov's turn of the century comedy, the joke is killed before it even starts. As soon as the Lubov Andreyevna (Kelley Rae O'Donnell), mistress of the estate, refers to her beloved home as "The Ninja Cherry Orchard," you know exactly what's going to happen. What you don't know is that you actually will be seeing nearly all of Chekhov's play, as well as the final speech from Uncle Vanya, interplayed with massive violence. What is unclear from Michael Gardner's script and direction is the conceit of the show. Is what we're seeing a production of The Cherry Orchard ruined by a ninja, with actors dying one by on? Or is it an actual story where ninjas exist and are killing off residents of this house? The show flip-flops between the two concepts, never quite settling on one. The violence is quick and rather funny, performed by the agile Jason Liebman as the Ninja, and the deadpan Aaron Baker as Fiers, the ancient butler who seems to be the only one prepared to deal with his presence. There are so many places The Ninja Cherry Orchard could go, and hopefully, when it gets revived at the Brick in early January, an editing eye will be brought to it. Remaining Performances: Sun 13 at 4pm, Fri 18 at 11pm and Sun 20 at 4pm.