Chicago Theater Review: STADIUM DEVILDARE (Red Tape Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 26, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

A CIRCUS BUT NO BREAD

The theater space is a cavernous church gym with lousy acoustics. The intrepid thespians at Red Tape Theatre transform it into the title setting, an arena of death without dignity: It’s set in an American war zone (presumably to show the interconnection between the violence of reality T.V. and actual combat). Deeply influencing Stadium Devildare are Japanese anime, America’s version of the WWF, the “jackass” stunts of Evel Knievel (who dared to soar over the Snake River canyon), assorted video games, and the samurai-like, hara-kiri suicide of right-wing Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of “Stadium Devildare” at Red Tape Theatre in Chicago

Stadium Devildare is a very loud, 85-minute spectacle that pits the ninja-like Godzilla X team against an all-American foe. Their unseen manipulators promise them a prize of citizenship (or something) if they win, reminiscent of the propaganda tricks exercised in Starship Troopers. Of course, the only real winners here are the corporate sponsors.

Playwright Ruth Margraff captures the trash talk and testosterone-laden, steroid-surging bravado behind the “final five” epic fights conveyed here, including a turf war over the best motto, an obstacle course, roulette, etc. The title venue has been changed to a nuclear testing site in the American desert, perhaps in homage to Godzilla. Not seen but felt through game host Lindsay Kane’s pandering narration is the desensitized T.V. audience, salivating a la The Hunger Games at these “sudden death” tours de force.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of “Stadium Devildare” at Red Tape Theatre in Chicago

Assorted warriors bellow neo-Darwinian claims of mastery of the universe, mingled with ugly eugenics-like references to society’s weaklings who deserve “the bulldozer.” Like pop-up inflatable dolls, the enemy die, then burst back to life, implying, perhaps too truly, that America will never run out of opponents (and perhaps we like it that way…).

The characters eventually realize the futility of always fighting: They either have to keep winning, forever or they will die because someone will always want to fight them. Perhaps it’s better to just run away or commit suicide (as so many of our soldiers have done recently).

According to dramaturg Molly Mullen, the well-choreographed stage combat (by Greg Poljacik) behind this “bloodsport” is a form of reality control, creating a “zero sum” world where nobody wins. By a bizarre process of elimination, two fighters (Carrie Drapac and Nicholas Combs) are left at the unedifying end, perhaps primed to complete the Japanese “happy dispatch” in homage to Mishima and the mistress he killed.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of “Stadium Devildare” at Red Tape Theatre in ChicagoBut by the end the show’s style has all but consumed whatever subject it propounds. It’s an awesome showcase of athletics, martial arts, and sheer stamina. Nonetheless, Shakespeare’s reference to “a tale of sound and fury signifying nothing” really fits this bill.

photos by Austin D. Oie

Stadium Devildare
Red Tape Theatre in Chicago
scheduled to end on Feb. 24, 2013
for tickets call 312-909-4432 or visit http://www.redtapetheatre.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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