The Welders’ latest show, Girl in the Red Corner by Stephen Spotswood, falls short of some expectations, but makes up for it in its many human moments delivered by its talented cast.
Audrey Bertaux plays Halo, an unemployed young woman living with her mother and longing for something self-affirming to help her out of her rut. Terry, her mother (Lisa Hodsoll,) once her role model, has succumbed to alcoholism and dwindling hours working at the grocery store. Meanwhile, Halo is a confidant for her older sister Brinn’s (Jennifer J. Hopkins) teenaged daughter. Halo finds her outlet training in Mixed Martial Arts with semi-pro Gina (Maggie Donnelly.)
Nicklas Aliff, in addition to playing the owner of Gina’s gym, also plays Brinn’s husband, Warren, as the two decimate their marriage to the soundtrack of their daughter trying to drown out the sound of their fighting. Halo, Brinn, and Terry all fight, in their different ways, as life grinds to a halt around them.
Audiences should dial back their hopes for a loud and violent feminist war cry by a notch or two. For one thing, the mixed martial arts is limited mostly to tame training sessions. In a particularly tense training session, when a hard kick to the torso is supposed to down the rookie Halo, the lack of a knap made it hard to tell that much happened.
The second act brings a few moments of violence, but not the crescendo one might be hungry for. Halo has a fight sequence that is just shy of a montage, showing moments of fighting a variety of opponents, but never committing to any single shot long enough to build tension. The martial arts setting finally thrives when contenders grapple on the floor of Debra Kim Sivigny’s perfectly thematic octagonal set, but even those moments are marred. The audience is only partially raked, and even Sivigny’s raised stage can’t bring actors rolling on the floor into view for every audience member.
When a scene pulls out all the stops to mix the show’s fight-sport milieu and feminist overtones, it just doesn’t land. Halo pounds away at two punch mitts held by Gina as both recite every sexist microaggression in the book, but it’s a long, long book. Instead of snowballing into a moment of emotional intensity for these two characters, the scene fizzles as the lines continue, as if the playwright was worried that it would take that many for the audience to hear something identifiable from their own experience. What is unidentifiable is how Halo manages to keep on quoting sexists without giving way to expletives or tears. The action and her anger could have spoken for themselves.
Girl in the Red Corner
closes November 20, 2016
Details and tickets
All that being said, there are many fine moments of humanity throughout Spotswood’s script. Gina used to abuse Oxycodone and has a brief moment when she refuses even Tylenol and has to assert her boundaries against a well-meaning Halo. Warren claims he has experienced the same kind of abuse over the phone that Halo does at her new telemarketing gig, but acknowledges how wrong he is when Halo quotes foul sexual harassments she has to deal with. When Warren plots to let a seemingly soulless HR rep take the fall for his own minor crime, Halo refuses to let him think of her so one-dimensionally.
The most effective humanizing moment might not be in the script at all. In preparation for a fight, Gina braids Halo’s hair. That moment of feminine intimacy interlaced with the practical concern of hair getting in Halo’s face during a match encapsulates the show’s dichotomy of being both a woman and a mixed martial artist much better than the fizzled-out scene of Gina and Halo trading jabs and microaggressions. It is effortlessly authentic, entirely practical, and perfectly thematic.
Ironically, a competitor for the single best moment seems to undercut everything else the play says about fighting for oneself. When Halo finally confronts her mother, begging her to explain how she went from the inspiring warrior she once was to an alcoholic at the mercy of age-based discrimination from an employer trying to weasel out of pension payments, Hodsoll brings down the house with a monologue asking what all her fighting ever got her but trouble.
Like DODO’s The Last Class, Girl in the Red Corner is a story about a physically strong woman with an outlet for her anger who simply can’t fix things. While Halo might be better off, Brinn and Terry aren’t. It’s unclear if everyone is even employed at the end, let alone happy. But their relationships are the stronger for all their fighting. That much is heart-warming to see.
Girl in the Red Corner. Written by Stephen Spotswood. Directed by Amber Paige McGinnis. Performed by Audrey Bertaux, Maggie Donnelly, Jennifer J. Hopkins, Lisa Hodsoll, and Nicklas Aliff. Sound by Chris Baine. Lighting by Laura J. Eckelman. Fight consulting by Jay Ferrari. Set & props by Debra Kim Sivigny. Costumes by Eric Teague. Fight directed by Cliff Williams III. Production stage managed by Laura Wood. Produced by the Welders. Review by Marshall Bradshaw.