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Fight Fest: Wham, Bam, Thank You “Last Life”

by Karen Tortora-Lee on December 18, 2009

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I’ve been a fan of Eric Sanders’ ever since I interviewed him last year and then reviewed his staging of the classic horror story The Wendigo.  And while that first show certainly gave me a taste for how great his talents are, I was very excited about getting the chance to see Last Life - one of his original works.  Chatting with Timothy Haskell recently about Fight Fest only made me more eager to see not just a play, but an amalgam of story and combat, something they christened “the fightsical”.

Everything leading up to Last Life did not prepare me for what I actually experienced that night in the theatre; and while there are a lot of things one could say about the show, very little would do it justice.

Last Life is unlike any show I’ve ever seen. The concept itself is rather straightforward and, in fact, not completely unique.  The storyline is vague but clearly post-apocalyptic, and while the plot eventually emerges, it does so slowly, and not without a great deal of speculation between scenes (Who is that?  What exactly did that mean?  How are all these people connected?).  Watching Last Life is like being presented with one of those dot-to-dot coloring books you had as a kid, the one with about 100 dots so you can’t define the image at all as you look at the page.  And even the first few pencil strokes don’t make much sense.  But slowly, as you make those connections and those dots merge into something solid, the story of the picture comes forward and the image lets you know what it is.  At that moment you can’t wait to keep scanning the page for dot 101, 102, 103, because you know that soon you’ll know EVERYTHING.  And that’s how I felt at about scene 5 of Last Life. The lone threads begin to weave a story and I was slowly reeled in until it all makes a crazy kind of sense.

Last Life begins with a litany of verbal violence as Taimak Guarriello pounds through a gruesome list of torture … brutal without brutality, setting the scene for us.  Wherever this place is, it’s remote.  And it’s different.  And something’s turned people into violent kill-or-be-killed fighting machines.  Even among sisters (as we see later) there is little room for love but a lot of room for fighting.

Each fight in Last Life is approached … meaning it does not happen organically in the middle of a sentence, but rather it is stepped into by the characters who stand facing each other in grim determination before leaping into exciting, balletic and heart-stoppingly choreographed fights.  They slap, tug, pull, drag, trip each other, spin, lunge forward, swing wide, grunt and sweat.  They use fists, legs, ropes and – in one fearsome scene – knives.  From where I was sitting, these were REAL KNIVES.  Wieled by women.  I was never so proud of my gender, and so pleased with a playwright and a director.  Thanks Eric and Timothy … and thanks fight director Rod Kinter – for putting the shiny sharp objects into the hands of women.  And the rope too, for that matter.

Beyond the obvious staging it takes to get 2 people locked in mortal combat, there is another hint of something unnameable here.  While each Kinter-directed fight is happening the real is obviously real … but the fake is intentionally fake, and therefore more truthful.  For instance, while some punches obviously connect, when they do not the “thump” of supposed flesh on flesh is handled by Tim Haskell who stand to the right and strikes a melon with a satisfying whack.  Instead of blood pellets being hidden among clothing and popped at the right moments blood is exaggeratedly painted on, and the dyed liquid is left to fall and splatter at will.   When the characters cease their battle, the mess is then mopped away but the stained clothes remain.  As the show progresses the simple pants and shirts become human spin art.  It’s not so much comical as it is funny.  And I think the audience laughs in appreciation of the fact that no one involved with Last Life is trying to make you think something occurred when it actually didn’t.  It’s a sly wink to all that’s come before it, and we’re in on the joke.

To explain too much of the plot would be to give too much away, so I will only say that the ensemble does an amazing job, not just with the fight routines, but with truly pulling you into this world co-conceived by Eric Sanders and Timothy Haskell and Rod Kinter.  Taimak Guarriello, Aaron Haskell, Soomi Kim, Jo-Anne Lee, Maggie MacDonald, and Alyxx Wilson all invite you into this unique existence, and in the end when the last man is left standing the ramifications of what’s been going on this whole time provides a satisfying conclusion.  One more show to go … see it while you still can.  You’ll never see theatre combat the same again.

Last Life
Presented as part of the Brick Theater’s Fight Fest
Remaining Show: Saturday Dec 19 at 2:30pm
575 Metropolitan Avenue (between Union and Lorimer Street)
For more information, Click Here
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