For a guy who is not into mixed martial arts or kung-fu movies, I sure did love The Tournament. Bold and ballsy and featuring a kick-ass story and even kick-assier action, this show is great theatre.
Fans of the film “The Fight Club” should already by buying tickets for this event, at least that’s what I heard someone say in the audience before the show started. I never saw it but I have seen a couple of “Karate Kid” movies, so I felt prepared enough.
The Tournament takes basic tropes from action movies and the martial arts and ramps them up into a live and in-your-face experience. The punching, the hitting, the weapons – I’ll get to the fight sequences in a minute.
The Tournament offers blazing hand-to-hand combat and sword play and still manages to get in a romantic comedy. Playwright Kyle Encinas skillfully crafted a story and characters for maximum surprises. As the tension mounts and each twist is revealed, I was on the edge of my seat.
Jack Clotaire (French for “fighter,” we learn) looks like a fine specimen of a man: tall, dark, cut and the top student of an aging martial arts guru. He might look like a super-hero – thanks to the perfectly cast James Finley – but he is really just a narcissistic brute who terrorizes his cousin Brian, using him as a personal punching bag during his rigorous training.
Brian is a loveable goofball hiding under the guise of a nebbish slacker, played masterfully by Jake Guinn. We quickly learn Jack is determined to turn his body into a fighting machine in order to defeat the man responsible for killing his father. Brian, on the other hand, has an even larger quest for self-worth in store.
When he is not getting knocked around by Jack, Brian works as a DC tour guide alongside Valerie Kane, a tomboy who still has a grip on her feminine side. Kristen Pilgrim makes an ideal Valerie maintaining a steady balance of strength and frisky flirtation. Her flirting, of course, is directed at Brian who at first is too backwards to notice he is part of the classic hot-girl going for the underdog game.
Valerie’s parents are in dire straits financially and being a tour guide does not pay enough. It just so happens she can handle herself in fight.. What is a girl to do? She signs up for a secret ultimate warrior contest where the grand prize is $50,000. With a prize like that, of course Jack enters the same contest, hoping to defeat his father’s killer, the Jackal, a brutal fighter who hides behind a mask. Cousin Brian goes along as Jack’s second and to offer moral support to Valerie.
Bringing together the fighters in the Ty-Mach competition is the Well Dressed Man, a Machiavellian manipulator if there ever was one, performed with panache and restrained malevolence by Robb Hunter. He manipulates the contenders and the contest to suit his needs, and also serves as the interlocutor until the fighters have nothing left but to fend for their lives.
by Kyle Encinas
at Sprenger – Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
Details and tickets
The fight sections are, in a word, awesome. There are fights with sticks, pipes, and just about every other dangerous tool of the trade.
Sometimes silly, sometimes scary and ultimately hair-raising, the creativity of the fight directors and the high-octane moves of the actors works on all counts. A variety of fighting styles, actual or created, pop up. One fighter uses hip-hop dance moves as the basis for his style, while Brian attempts to go spider monkey and ends up on someone’s back. The element of danger builds with each contest, ending with a crescendo of weapons, kicks and mayhem that has to be seen to be believed.
Preferred Arms, Robb Hunter’s company which rents weapons to film companies, has provided an impressive arsenal for the show.
Hunter worked on the fight choreography along with Casey Kaleba, Jenny Male, Craig Lawrence, Chris Niebling, and Lewis Shaw. They know their stuff. And so do all the performers. (In case you’re not convinced yet, take a look at them in rehearsal.)The four main actors are joined by the equally skilled Craig Lawrence (Uncle/Jackal), David Van Tassell, Kelsey Painter, Christian Sullivan, Matt Strote, Peter Pereyra, and Ashley Byrd. Each performer was clearly having fun while maintaining precise concentration during the action sequences.
The Tournament works on many levels: the action, humor, staging, performances, and the writing. When all is said and done – and Brian and Valerie get together in the final moments – the show is satisfying as a complete theatre piece and not just an excuse for staged fights. In the program, Live Action Theatre states their aim is to “elevate the art and practice of theatrical staged violence to the highest performance standards.” The Tournament allows the company to proclaim a victory and hopefully get to work planning their next production.