Entertainment » Theatre

The Fight

by Cassandra Csencsitz
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Nov 8, 2017
Fleur Alys Dobbins, Laura Bozzone, and Judith Hawking
Fleur Alys Dobbins, Laura Bozzone, and Judith Hawking  

Dust off your protest signs and march straight downtown to an unlikely spot, the off-off Broadway Theatre at Grand Hall (St. Mary's Parish), where three of the finest performances in one of year's best new plays has six shows to go in its triumphant maiden run.

Judging everything by its cover, I entered the theatre and was immediately prepared for the worst, in spite of author Jonathan Leaf's track record of tightly crafted, engaging plays and high-quality productions. It simply looked too unadorned to be true -- a church-basement coffee hour, minus the coffee. But just as all the bells and whistles in the world can't disguise a bad play, their lack cannot keep down a great one. As the first loaded lines rose from deep within a wild-eyed Judith Hawking, I fastened my seat belt for what would prove to be one helluva fight.

Storm Theatre's flawless, economical production of "The Fight," a "War Paint"-worthy showdown between '60s feminist royalty Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, pseudonymed Doris Margolies and Phyllis Feinberg, left this reviewer questioning everything she thought she knew about the origins of feminism.

As a mother of two who daylights as a beauty writer, I found much common ground in "The Fight," and marveled at Leaf's ability to re-create this vintage world of women and, simultaneously, to mirror our current one. Beauty-writing jabs aside -- such as this inspired by Steinem's "Ms." magazine career, "She was famous before she proclaimed herself a feminist. Why? Because she wrote features on mascara?!" -- I found Leaf's insights into marriage, family planning, working motherhood, professional identity, AND beauty itself are consistent with what any honest woman will tell you, it's complicated!

As remarkable for what it doesn't do as what it does, "The Fight" is a heady and historical piece of entertainment that Leaf has crafted without recourse to exposition or any lags in pace. Director Peter Dobbins and Lighting Designer Michael Abrams changed scenes without pausing the action or touching the set.

Actresses Judith Hawking (Friedan), a Leaf regular, and Fleur Alys Dobbins (Phyllis) flashed back to much-younger selves without a costume or cosmetic change, putting one in mind of the over-quoted (but that's not going to stop me) Laurence Olivier tsk-tsk to Method poster boy Dustin Hoffman, "My dear boy, why don't you just try acting?" Of Hawking and Dobbins, Olivier would approve.

Cataloging "The Fight's" many virtues, its casting is inspired, with a play and players that fit each other like a glove (in this case, a boxing one). Each actress seems born to originate her role. Hawking is a Hecuba of a housewife, stiffly circling her interviewer, muumuu hanging, tongue piercing, her brilliance and anger on constant display.

The more understated Dobbins is a thing of beauty and the arrogance that comes with it, as well as a restrained intelligence she feels less in need to advertise. Laura Bozzone as a deceptively peppy graduate student Caitlin Schultz knows how to play the ingénue and flex her muscles, too.

Central to the fight between Feinberg and Margolies is an accusation of a long-ago stolen election and an apparently even graver crime, defining feminism differently. Alternately interviewed by Schultz, the women spill their sides -- Margolies as if her life depends on it, Feinberg as if she couldn't care less -- and it's hard to miss how much emotion they've expended on each other. With the various etiologies and interpretations surrounding the big f-word, and the conversation that fills countless contemporary articles and blogs about how hard women are on each other, it is the preposition that follows the word "fight," FOR or WITH, that seems vital to feminism then and now.

But beyond the fascinating particulars of this story, I found myself meditating on the play's name. On how life, of necessity, is a fight filled with privileges and progress that become vulnerable the moment you take for granted what others have sacrificed to bequeath us. For women, for feminists, for all people, perhaps the fight is the thing.

"The Fight" runs through November 18 at The Storm Theatre, Grand Hall at St. Mary's, 440 Grand St. in New York, New York 10002. For information or tickets, visit http://tix.smarttix.com/Modules/Sales/SalesMainTabsPage.aspx?ControlState=1&SalesEventId=6888&DC=

Cassandra Csencsitz is a New York-based arts and beauty writer. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Kalamazoo College and Master of Arts from St. John's College's Great Books Program. Cassandra met her husband in Greece on the University of Detroit Mercy's Classical Theatre Program and they are now the bemused parents of two. Cassandra is the Communications Director for Trish McEvoy Beauty.


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