Ensemble Member and Creator Trevor Dawkins is mad! Really mad!! So mad, he wants to punch someone in the face. Instead, he decided to tell a story… about fighting. The premise of his play is the theatre riots and violence provoked by the Dadaist and Surrealist movements at the turn of the 20th century. Dawkins casts the ensemble as the artistic and historic figures of those protest times. The fully-gamed and energetic crew include Jen Ellison, Rasell Holt, Arti Ishak, TJ Medel, Kendra Miller, Stephanie Shum and Jeff Trainor. Under the impressive fight direction of Gaby Labotka, they beat the crap out of each other, over and over, again and again.
The combat illustration appears to parallel the artistic expression of these pioneering twentieth century neo-futurists. And ultimately the play is related to the Neo-Futurists’ origin. During the theatrical spectacle, we learn Dawkins’ anger is anchored in the real life drama of Neo-Futurists’ Founder Greg Allen. In 2016, Allen stunned his ensemble and the Chicago theatre community by quitting and taking his 28 year show “Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind” with him. Dawkins doesn’t explain that story. Instead, he goes on a ‘fuck founders’ rampage. Knowing the real story about Allen makes Dawkins’ show a clever and cathartic artistic therapy session. Audience members unaware of the real drama beneath the floorboards and within the hearts of the Neo-Futurists will likely be confused at the deconstruction of the play.
Despite the high drama, the audience is regularly giggling at the high-spirited, hi-jinx of this crew. They work over time to infuse comedy into the tension. Personally, I was more buried beneath the madness. I only laughed out loud once. It was during an argument about diverse casting, another throwback to the founder’s departure. Dawkins is accused by some actors of casting them solely for diversity sake. The awkward quarrel has everyone onstage and in the audience holding their breath. When an indignant Holt distances himself, Ishak pipes up, “I saw ‘Black Panther’ opening weekend too.” It’s funny on so many levels.
There are mega memorable moments in this rambling brawl and the terrific ensemble embrace them. Ellison and Trainor’s squabble crosses the line – literally- in their quest to uncover truths. In the ‘real world’, Trainor vulnerably describes their relationship and Ellison brushes him off. Later after beating on each other, an irritated Ellison exits with a bitter “see you tomorrow night, friend.” Nothing in the moment relates it as a sweet sentiment except we know what she said earlier. I almost ‘awwwww’ right out loud. Shum, a spitfire of energy, goes from tireless smack talk to disconcertingly quiet. Holt’s boxing moves captivate. And Medel’s announcing skills are top-notch. I even enjoyed Dawkins and Miller’s odd but endearing face mask applications. And a very last minute reflection by Ishak on a local Muslim protest and her boyfriend’s reaction is marring.
A STORY TOLD IN SEVEN FIGHTS primarily works best as an insider’s glimpse into drama’s artistic expression. I’m not sure newbies to Neo-Futurists will get it, the art or the drama.
What is the running time? The program says 70 minutes. A sign at the box office announces that it’s 90 minutes and to ‘enjoy the extra twenty minutes.’ The reality is its 110 minutes without an intermission. The show started in the lobby at 7:40pm. There is a five minute fighting shtick with Dawkins and Miller… I think. I actually couldn’t see over the crowd in front of me. Following this short five minute interval, the audience moves into the theatre. Getting the audience settled in the venue takes another five minutes. The shift in locale adds length without justification. I, personally, like to leisurely enter a theatre, choose a seat and get comfortable before the show starts. I’ve been to a couple of Neo-Futurists shows with this relocation from lobby to theatre. I don’t like to be forced to quickly grab whatever seat is still available. The real show actually started at 7:50pm and ended at 9:20pm.
Running Time: 110 minutes with no intermission
At The Neo-Futurists, 5153 N. Ashland
Created by Trevor Dawkins
Directed by Tony Santiago
Performed by Trevor Dawkins, Jen Ellison, Rasell Holt, Arti Ishak, TJ Medel, Kendra Miller, Stephanie Shum and Jeff Trainor
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm
Thru April 7th
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