Broken Nose Theatre’s production of Girl in the Red Corner by Stephen Spotswood brings the long and complicated relationship women have with rage to the mat. Newly free from an abusive relationship yet trapped in her mother’s house, the now unemployed Halo (Elise Marie Davis) steps into a mixed martial arts gym for the first time. Under the expertise of her trainer, Halo discovers a new passion that allows her to break away from the family drama constantly at her heels. Elizabeth Laidlaw directs the Midwest premiere of Spotswood’s script, and the result is a ferocious heroine’s journey.
Girl in the Red Corner contains a whole lot of tragedy – alcoholism, domestic abuse, and unemployment to name a few. While occasionally the amount of conflicts is reminiscent of an afterschool special, a few performances stood out as being particularly real. Gina (August N. Forman) is an opioid addict turned MMA star, but their struggles resonate deeper. The attention that Forman affords each moment is captivating. If each scene is a fight, they give back better than they get. This brings out the best in Elise Marie Davis, as some of Halo’s best scenes are with her trainer.
Michelle Courvais is a stand out as Terry, Halo’s mother, but it doesn’t stop there. Courvais reappears as the terrifyingly chipper Nancy and then a third time as Gina’s battle-ready opponent. Mark West also executes the task of multiple characters. As the only male on stage, West is charged with the two most forgettable written roles in the female-driven plot. Despite this, West creates a quick audience favorite in Kyle and adds depth to the close-mouthed Warren.
Brin (Kim Boler) and Halo are two siblings with strong opinions about how the other should live their life. When Boler embodies Halo’s opponent in the final MMA match, Halo finally gets what she needs: a one-on-one with her sister. There are copious creative representations of brothers rough-housing but rarely do we get to see sisters fist fight. As someone with an older sister myself, I can assure you that we do. When Boler and Davis take their battle from physical to verbal, they spar with language and shed light on the strongest point of tension in a script with so many unresolved conflicts.
The actors, as well as the audience, are caged in by a chain-link fence wrapped around the theatre. Therese Ritchie’s set design raises the stakes of each scene by placing everything directly on the mat, regardless of the scripted setting. It is Cat Davis who creates each location with a transformative lighting design that emphasizes the isolation of Halo’s office, the warmth of the gym, and the drama of the octagon. The girl-group rock-and-roll that drives Isaac Mandel’s sound design only amps up the intensity. With characters and space just begging for a fight, John Tovar’s clean choreography delivers. A balance of real-time and slow-motion movement brings attention to the split-second decisions that make or break a match.
Director Elizabeth Laidlaw introduces the production by walking onto the mat that stretches across the stage. She has her heels in her hand. This image is striking and gives a glimpse into what this play is about. Women in a space dominated by men. With so much going on, Laidlaw puts focus on characters that get back up. Terry, Brin, Halo, and Gina all get their chance to forge ahead. The script is incredibly eventful, but every audience member will find a way to connect with this story, no matter what battles you may be fighting.
Elise Marie Davis, Halo
Kim Boler, Brinn
August N. Forman, Gina
Michelle Courvais, Terry/Nancy/The Opponent
Mark West, Warren/Kyle
Stephen Spotswood, Playwright
Elizabeth, Laidlaw, Director
Jenna Thiel, Stage Manager
Alison Dornheggen, Associate Director
Madisen Dempsey, Assistant Director
John Tovar, Fight Choreographer
David Gonzalez, Assistant Fight Choreographer
Rose Hamill, Production Manager
Therese Ritchie, Scenic Designer
Cat Davis, Lighting Designer
Lizzie Cook, Costume Designer
Devon Green, Props Designer
Isaac Mandel, Sound Designer
Liz Gomez, Master Electrician
Dominique Zaragoza, Technical Director
Jen Poulin, Accessibility Coordinator
David Weiss, Graphic Designer
Spenser Davis, Marketing Photographer
Austin D. Oie, Photography