Currently in mid-run at the Rabbittown Theatre is The Fights, a co-production between Rabbittown and MUN Drama. I checked it out last night and was taken with its mix of gritty, gruff realism and old time charm.
The Fights tells the true story of Newfoundland-born “Gentleman” Johnny Dwyer’s rise through the ranks of the illegal, bare knuckle fighting circuit of 1870’s New York City. An ambitious story well represented by Ben Pittman’s script, which is brought to well-textured life in this, its inaugural staging.
I’ll get to the production side of things in a moment, but first I’d like to acknowledge the great little piece of cross-promotion The Fights has going with Yellow Belly Brewery, wherein the brewery has installed a tap of their Fighting Irish Red in the box office/bar of the Rabbittown Theatre.
Pint in hand, the first thing that struck me when I entered the theatre was the life breathed into it by John Rao’s set design. Despite its stark minimalism — a small bar in one corner, some steps leading up to a small stage with a table and some chairs in another corner — I was immediately struck with a sense of time and place indicative of the era. This was helped along nicely by Brian Bishop’s lighting design, which cast a nostalgia-tinged sepia tone over the stage, carefully dimmed so as to create the illusion you’re peering deep into an often dark past.
Finally, the majority of the cast, in full character, were already in place around the bar before the doors even opened, gallivanting as though the audience were not passing through them to take their seats, giving us the sense that we are entering their world and not the other way around.
A rich cast of characters make up Gentleman Johnny’s world, performed with gusto and grace by an ensemble cast of seasoned actors and relative newcomers alike. There’s a lot of story crammed into The Fights’ spry two hours, with rises and falls, delights and deceptions, and this cast makes good on all accounts.
Even the fights, a technical challenge in and of themselves, were delivered with a dramatic flair that kept me in the moment and often got the audience, myself included, caught up in the cheering and jeering.
There were lots of nice touches that The Fights had to offer which I thoroughly enjoyed but won’t spoil in mentioning, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge how they segued into intermission. So consider that acknowledged.
And the ending definitely had its way with my heart strings there for a moment.
The Fights continues its run at The Rabbittown Theatre tonight (Friday) and tomorrow night (Saturday) with an 8pm start time, and tomorrow afternoon at 2pm. Tickets are $20, or $30 with a meal (call for details). For more information or to book tickets, call the box office at 739-8220.