I have to admit, I jinxed it.
I made the mistake of telling someone, shortly before seeing the Neo-Futurists’ latest Prime Time production, A Story Told in Seven Fights, that the Neo-Futurists had never disappointed me.
Disappointed is the wrong word, though. This play left me…baffled? Upset? Uncomprehending? Exhausted, for sure, in the way that only the Neo-Futurists’ fast-paced, idea- and action-packed style of theatre can leave an audience member in only ninety minutes.
If form follows function, then this article about the Neo-Futurists must be completely honest, as they always are, and so I’ll tell you that this play confused me. That doesn’t make it a bad play, of course. I fear it may make me a bad audience member or, worse, a bad critic. This is the sixth Neo-Futurists production I’ve reviewed, and I fell into the trap of thinking I knew what to expect. But the Neo-Futurists are in the business of defying expectation, and Trevor Dawkins, the show’s creator, has certainly succeeded at bucking all my ideas about what one of their shows ought to be.
The structure of the play seems to be outlined in its title. There will be seven fights, and they will connect to tell a story. The story is not linear, but it’s also not singular. The play’s center is ostensibly the life of performance artist Arthur Cravan and his Dadaist and Surrealist contemporaries. The play’s center is ostensibly violence, the phrase “youth in rebellion,” and the idea of destroying all existing systems, whether they be political or artistic. But swirling all around these centers are confrontations of privilege, a questioning of the very idea of narrative, and a mind-boggling blurring of the lines between reality and fiction—not usually a problem with the Neo-Futurists, who normally reject the fourth wall and perform as themselves, never as characters.
“Youth in rebellion” is an idea that speaks to me. Tearing down systems is an idea that speaks to me. But when the actors in this show, speaking either as themselves or as the artists of the early twentieth century they’re portraying, talk about burning it all down, I can’t help but wonder: how? Punching someone in the face to make a statement seems great, but I can’t punch capitalism. I can’t punch xenophobia, or racism, or power. And how can anyone tear down art using art? Isn’t that inherently contradictory?
A Story Told in Seven Fights is not my cup of tea, and that’s coming from someone who adores stage combat. It left me feeling like a piece of construction paper that was ripped up for an art project but then left sitting on the table, never finished. Still, it gave me an awful lot to think about. Is that the point? Maybe. Or maybe not. Someone besides me will have to figure it out.
Location: 5153 N. Ashland Ave.
Dates: March 1 – April 7, 2018
Times: Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: Thursdays and Previews Pay-What-You-Can, Regular Run: $10-$25. Tickets and information are available at The Neo-Futurists website or 773.275.5255
Photos by Joe Mazza.