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Photograph: Austin D. OieStadium Devildare at Red Tape Theatre

Stadium Devildare at Red Tape Theatre | Theater review

Ruth Margraff’s American Gladiators–style competition throws a lot of punches, but its targets aren’t clear.


If Mac Wellman or Naomi Wallace had penned the Hunger Games script, it might have resembled Ruth Margraff’s 2004 one-act, which follows a combat-as-entertainment sporting event emceed by a zippy, sinister hostess (Lyndsay Kane). The similarity ends at the modern-gladiator premise (not to mention Margraff came first); from there, Stadium Devildare splits off into recondite poetry and shotgun satire.

Four competitors engage in violent contests in hopes of moving on to more violent contests. As a short-term incentive, winners are awarded the privilege of wearing Evel Knievel’s enchanted jumpsuit and experiencing the euphoria of American idealism. Margraff dishes out some criticism of U.S. hawkishness, but what else she’s getting at is unclear. Corporate sponsorships, unrequited loyalties, self-defeat and sexualized violence are all tossed around the arena with portentous noncommitment.

Peculiar style and thematic mash-ups seem to be common for Margraff: Among her credits, the School of the Art Institute faculty member lists six “martial arts operas.” Aside from one intentionally warbled rendition of “God Bless America,” there’s no singing in this abstract battle royal, but there are plenty of unitard-clad ensemble players lunging off set pieces and simulating hand-to-hand combat. Karen Yates’s frenzied and ambitious production shows some stylistic shades of Gaspar Noé and Quentin Tarantino but suffers from the same style-over-substance shortcomings as Red Tape’s The Skriker earlier this season. Articulate performances by Carrie Drapac and Nicholas Combs are drowned out by the surrounding excess. It’s as affecting as watching a cardio class.

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