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Pictured: Ensemble of FIGHT NIGHT. Photo by Yvon Poncelet.
By Marie Warner
FIGHT NIGHT at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is a theater experience unlike any other. Visiting Belgian company Ontroerend Goed has created a work that will challenge your preconceived notions about the political system in a new and engaging way.
As audience members enter the theater, they are given small numbered keypads. These devices serve as electronic ballots, and the audience is asked to press a number to vote for different answers. There are some practice questions which establish the demographics of the room and then the “fight” begins.
Five candidates are presented and the audience is asked to vote for their favorite. We immediately see the results of the poll and find that the audience has strong feelings based solely on appearance, without any information about the candidates. As we progress in the evening, there are a number of different methods used to eliminate contenders. There is a blind study in which the audience answers questions about themselves and then find out which candidate aligns most closely to them. There are speeches made and alliances struck. There are twists and turns that I don’t want to reveal because I want you to see this show without clouding your ability to engage honestly in the process.
FIGHT NIGHT is not a play in the strict sense of the word. It is an interactive theatrical experience. It is deeply political but says nothing about actual issues. The candidates play on your preconceived notions and prejudices without ever taking any kind of real world stance. Constant conflict between parties and ideologies has become the new normal, but FIGHT NIGHT is about the process itself.
I consider myself a politically literate person. I have been dissatisfied with the two party system and the “choices” I am given for a long time now. But FIGHT NIGHT still shocked me. I am ashamed to admit how much I gravitated toward candidate Jeroen simply because of how handsome and polished he was. How much I was turned off by candidate Charlotte because of how she was dressed. Do I have to turn in my feminist card now? The most shocking aspect is how quickly people will vote against their own interests and beliefs.
Writer/Director Alexander Devriendt has created a truly unique and thought-provoking devised experience and the commitment of the cast is incredible. Angelo Tijssens is a charming and funny host. Charlotte De Bruyne, Aaron Gordon, Aurélie Lannoy, Jeroen Van Der Ven, and Max Wind are wonderful and specific and natural in an atmosphere that can become quite fraught.
This is a vital work. As the midterms approach, we are inundated with calls to “Get out the vote,” “Glam up the midterms” and every celebrity seems to have a list of candidates they endorse. FIGHT NIGHT reminds us that we are still living within a broken, human system, but our voices and our votes do matter — but we must continually examine our own motivations and continue to fight for a just and open process for all.
FIGHT NIGHT runs through November 4. For more information visit chicagoshakes.com.