Kelsey holds a BFA in Theatre Studies and a BS in Cinema/Media Studies from the U of I in Champaign-Urbana. She's a freelance dramaturg, most recently working with Circle Theatre's Venus in Fur. Kelsey believes in theater's ability to change the world. A mix of wit and lit.
Pictured: Kim Boler as Erica Burdon. Photo courtesy of The Factory Theatre.
By Kelsey McGrath
The fact that Factory Theatre’s FIGHT CITY was written by its own Artistic Director, Scott OKen, explains a lot. It’s like when you see an ugly dog and are like, “Who could love this ugly dog?” And really, only the parents could, which seems like the case here. Factory Theatre’s FIGHT CITY is a risky production that imagines a post apocalyptic world where most men have been swept away by a virus and the women are left to their own devices. While built on good intentions, this show is in such poor taste. It doesn’t know its ideological grounding.
The confusion begins when individuals are coded at the door and handed a “Guide to Being a Good Sponsored Male.” This pamphlet is essentially a role reversal of the gendered 1950s, and loosely sets up the rules of the world we are about to enter. Any show that assumes an individual’s gender as they walk in the door further perpetuates the erasure of trans* and gender non-conforming individuals, and the idea of being a “Sponsored Male” wasn’t particularly explored during the show.
FIGHT CITY makes bold choices — many, many bold choices. Few of which were connected and few of which seemed savory. OKen creates a world where women have power, but merely body switches. In this world, women have adopted stereotypical male behavior in all its crassness and degradation, and primal instincts. There has been no progress. Gender roles were merely switched: the women in this world essentially became “men” in their power hungry, violent ways. There was no difference besides the bodies that inhabited the positions of power; which seems thoughtless. There was also this very uncomfortable moment of simulated sexual assault; one where a “woman” violates a “man” that seemed very unnecessary. There are no trigger warnings for this moment
There is also a reach towards white feminism. The writer tries to set up a world where men don’t have rights and there’s police brutality, and there’s citizen unrest. There are tones of class war and gender war but neither are reflected on. This world uses a lot of “futuristic” terms that aren’t explained. Men who were born “naturally” rather than in a laboratory are a delicacy, but why that’s important isn’t really elaborated on. Or why the main villain, Erica, has such a chip on her shoulder about Margaret Davies – her former police trainer – that she decides to kill her. This is a zenith to the conflict, but feels unfounded.
Rather than the story, this show is invested in fight choreography, thoughtfully designed by Maureen Yasko and Chris Smith. Here, multitudes of fake blood was splattered on the audience. (Some of us were splattered with no warning — which would be fine had the fake blood not been superfluous.) It also invested in some killer design: Set, Sound, Costumes, and Make-Up all deserve accolades. The space was transformed and an intense common vision is created through the design aesthetic. I was rooting for this show from the beginning because of its transformative quality, but without a story that generates care for any of its main characters, it’s easy for these other components to become meaningless.
FIGHT CITY’s rules are unclear and unexplained. It’s thoughtless, littered with clichés, and the thread of our main heroine’s story is so thin, caring for her is a challenge. Holistically, FIGHT CITY isn’t a place I would want to visit again anytime soon.