nytheatre.com review by David Johnston
December 11, 2009
The Brick continues to provide quality alternative entertainment to New Yorkers, who are perhaps bored with The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, or The Rockettes. So, what would be an interesting alternative to standard holiday fare? How about an entire festival devoted to grunting, punching, kicking, and dying?
This year's Fight Fest includes the inaugural production of En Garde Entertainment, an offshoot of the stage combat academy on East Fourth Street. Their "violence ballet," Evolution, is an enjoyable master class in all the ways humans have learned to throw down the last few millennia. Directed by Alexandra Hastings and fight directed by David Dean Hastings, Evolution crams two thousand years of ass-kicking—and 23 loose-jointed combatants—into the tiny Brick space on Metropolitan Avenue. Bones, fists, swords, samurais, guns, gladiators—something for everyone this holiday season!
Starting off with cavemen and the discovery of fire (accompanied by the inevitable Strauss cue), Evolution slashes and gouges its way through Ancient Greece, the Roman Coliseum, Egypt, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Old West, Musketeers, private dicks and Bruce Lee in a crisp 80 minutes. There's no plot, little dialogue beyond a few "oofs," and no characters delineated further than "Musketeer," "Spartan," or "Biker Boy." Costumes and tech are kept to a minimum, with sound design standing in for most of the atmosphere and evocation. And Evolution is happily equal-opportunity—women jump right in and give as good as they get; historical accuracy be damned.
Evolution is sweaty fun even if you're just admiring the technique of bodies in motion. Much feels like a high-class demonstration, an industry night for students to show off. But in their first outing, it's clear that Hastings, Hastings, and Friends are moving towards something else—a preliminary exploration of fight technique integrated to highly theatricalized storytelling. It's not always successful—some sections, like the visually uninteresting "American Revolution," come off as obvious. Some fight techniques start to look an awful lot like other fight techniques after two thousand years. But some sections—using John Woo-style slow-mo, music, and choreography—move from nuts and bolts technique into something "dancer-ly," and emotionally resonant, theater rooted in physicality rather than language.
The cast of warriors is good, game, and full of personality, communicating glee in controlled physical mayhem. Hastings and Hastings use body types tall and small here which affords more visual variety and surprise. It's impossible to single out exceptional combatants/victors/victims—there are 23 of them getting slugged, knifed, eviscerated, or French kissed.
In my favorite section, a crisp tour guide with a clipboard (Molly Thomas) offers the audience a shot-by-shot dissection of the famed gunfight between the Earps and Clantons at the O.K. Corral (or, as Thomas reveals, in a vacant lot between two buildings very near the O.K. Corral). It's a fascinating piece of reconstruction, put together from newspaper accounts, courtroom testimony, and eyewitness testimony. After this detailed demonstration, Thomas explains that the entire incident only took 30 seconds, and the participants proceed to recreate the gunfight in real time, filling the Brick with the smell of blanks. Top that, Radio City.