When the lights went up at intermission of Girl in the Red Corner, I found myself feeling something I’ve never felt at intermission of a show before: disappointment. I didn’t want to wait ten minutes to see the rest of the story. I wanted to keep watching.
Broken Nose Theatre has an opening night curse, apparently, which manifested this time as a fried light board that had to be replaced and reprogrammed, delaying the start of the show by half an hour. Frankly I’m just impressed that lighting designer Cat Davis completed such a daunting task at all. The audience was asked to be forgiving of any strange lighting cues, but truthfully I was so absorbed in the story I didn’t notice anything odd, nor did I notice any issues with the sound, which someone mentioned at intermission was misbehaving as well. Mostly I was just delighted at the selection of upbeat, bass-heavy tunes sound designer Isaac Mandel chose as transition music.
So, the story. Divorced, unemployed, and living with her mother, protagonist Halo decides to train as an MMA fighter despite having no experience whatsoever. Although initially skeptical, trainer Gina agrees to take her on, and while Halo begins a new and horrible job as a telemarketer and spirals into conflict with her mother, sister Brinn, and brother-in-law Warren, she finds the gym is the only place she truly feels happy. The whole story is infused with a distinctly feminist vibe; my favorite scene involves Gina and Halo quoting misogynistic phrases like “remember to smile” and “that time of the month?” at each other while Halo beats the sh*t out of some padding. I would have sworn that scene was written by a woman if I didn’t know it was written by playwright Stephen Spotswood.
Spotswood has a real knack for creating vibrant, complex characters. Halo is tough and vulnerable and determined and uncertain all at once, and Elise Marie Davis’ unflinching performance in the role is utterly captivating. So too is August N. Forman as Gina; they play Gina’s toughness, their intense devotion to MMA, and their easy sense of humor with equal skill and with a dazzling charisma that makes it impossible to look away from them. I also couldn’t help but love Kim Boler as Brinn. So much of Brinn is wildly different from Halo, yet her drive to fight for what matters to her is just as strong, and that fierceness comes through in Boler’s performance.
It’s impossible to talk about this show without praising the fight choreography. The fights are so essential to the storytelling, and in an intimate space like this one, it’s even more important that everything be believable and safe. Fight choreographer John Tovar has done a spectacular job, and in terms of adrenaline-fueled excitement and pure bang for your buck, this play might be the best deal out there right now.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Broken Nose Theatre is a pay-what-you-can company, and I offer major props to them for taking concrete action to make theatre affordable and accessible to everyone. With prices like that, there’s no excuse not to go see this gem of a show. Girl in the Red Corner is a high-energy romp through a fascinating journey, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Location: The Den Theatre (2A), 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Regular run: Thursday, February 7 – Saturday, March 2, 2019
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm
Industry night: Monday, February 18 at 7:30 pm
Understudy night: Wednesday, February 27 at 7:30 pm
Tickets: Pay-what-you-can. Tickets are currently available at the Broken Nose Theatre website.
All photos by Austin D. Oie.