Thursday, November 26, 2009

Grab a cutlass, and en guard

By Meredith Deliso

With its New York Clown Theater Festival, the Brick Theater has become the destination for clown theater each fall.

Now, it with its upcoming Fight Fest, the Williamsburg theater looks to do the same for another obscure performance genre: stage combat.

From December 4 to 20, The Brick will provide a home for a broad spectrum of fight choreography (think musicals, but instead of breaking out in songs, the characters fight), with everything from martial arts to capoeira, swordplay to firearms.

Stage combat seems to be at a tipping point, says Timothy Haskell, what with “The Soul of Shaolin,” a Chinese martial arts spectacle, on Broadway earlier this year, the martial arts-based “Jump,” which ran for 10 months last year at the Union Square Theatre, and the Weinstein Company’s interest in bringing “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” to Broadway.

“It’s pervasive,” says Haskell, who joins Qui Nguyen and Abby Marcus of Vampire Cowboys Theater Company, and the staff at The Brick, in curating the festival. “It seems like the right time because there’s a real interest in this kind of theater.”

Haskell got into stage combat himself in 2003, directing a production of “Road House,” the Patrick Swayze movie, for the stage. For Fight Fest, he’ll direct “Last Life,” starring Taimak of the legendary fight film, with the fight directed by Rod Kinter.

“I want to create something on stage that is as exciting as an action movie because people will tend to go see a really bad action movie before they see a really good play,” says Haskell.

“Last Life” will be one of 10 diverse shows offered through the three-week festival, which the theater hopes to make an annual event. Genres from street fighting to martial arts to “Three Musketeer-style fighting,” will be included, says Haskell. “We’re trying to make it as eclectic as possible.”

After directing the fight for The Brick’s 2006 production “The Kung Fu Importance of Being Earnest,” Qui Nguyen returns to the theater with “The Ninja Cherry Orchard,” a play off the Chekhov piece directed by Michael Gardner. Nguyen will also direct the fight for the martial arts fairy tale “Craven Monkey and the Mountain of Carnage,” presented by Piper McKenzie Productions, the creators of “Macbeth Without Words.”

Also presenting in the festival are Depth Charge, with “Butterfly, Butterfly, Kill Kill Kill!,” inspired by Japanese B-movie director Seijun Suzuki’s 1967 accidental masterpiece “Branded to Kill”; Fighto LLP, with the swashbuckling comedy romance “The Buccaneer”; Ten Directions with “Deck the Hallmans!,” just in time for the holidays; En Garde Entertainment with “Evolution” (pictured), which features a cast of 24 fighters using anything they can get their hands on — broadswords, smallswords, spears, guns, rocks, you name it; and Cat Fight Productions with “Power Burn 3,” a full-on — you guessed it — cat fight.

The festival will also feature several cabarets, including a free preview of the mainstage shows on opening night, and a glimpse of “The Zombie Project: The Story of Icarus Phoenix,” directed by Stephanie Cox-Williams.

With the theater’s intimate setting, you’ll see every kick, punch and flip right in your face. And, unlike in film, there’s no room for editing or second takes.

“We’re going to see a level of choreography rarely seen on stage,” says Haskell. “There’s going to be a lot of honesty, as much as possible without someone getting hurt.”

Fight Fest runs at The Brick (575 Metropolitan Ave.) from December 1-20 (with extensions through January 10 TBA). All shows run multiple nights. Tickets are $18 for each show and can be purchased by calling Theatermania at 212-352-3101/212-868-4444, or online. For more information, call 718-907-6189.


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