Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“The Opponent”

One of our most intimate of theater spaces in Chicago is the cozy A Red Orchid Theatre on Wells Street. Over the years, we have witnessed some marvelous works on their tiny floor they use as a stage. Their current production, a  World Premiere by Ensemble Member Brett Neveu ,” The Opponent” is a two character play that involves an ex-fighter, now a trainer, Tre ( deftly handled by Guy Van Swearingen) and a young fighter, Donell ( fiercely portrayed by Kamal Angelo Bolden). The sport of boxing is closely examined in this two act play by Neveu. It is more than just a look at the sport itself, but the effect it has on those who have chosen to participate in this often body crushing endeavor. Not only is the body harmed, but the mind and soul of each fighter is at stake. The conditions they exist in are painful, and as the years go by, unlike other lines of work, they have no further rewards. Many, who never “made it” look back at their lives still feeling that they could have been contenders, but very few ever hit the heights in reality, although in their minds, they were on the way to the title.

Directed By Karen Kessler, these two actors spend a lot of time in the ring ( the set designed by Joey Wade, sure looks like a gym that boxers might work out in). Remember, this is a small space, so some of the actual boxing and rope skipping is only a few feet from audience members. There are a couple of set blind spots due to size, but Kessler has figured out movement that keeps the flow strong enough so that we miss very little. John Tovar is the fight choreographer and I must say, after awhile I lost sight that these were actors. They appeared to be fight experienced and their movement quite authentic.

This is 100 minutes of action packed character study. The first and second act are separated by five years in time ( only 15 minutes in reality) as we go from young potential boxer, being trained for a major match, to five years later when Tre’s gym is almost abandoned and Donell has become an injured, sore “has-been”.While the art of boxing is what moves the story , there is really a lot more to what “The Opponent” brings to us. It is about man’s ego and pride; his desire to succeed and his relationship with those who are part of his life. There is no doubt that Tre had a career in boxing and when that failed became a trainer. Taking on the young Donell was perhaps his second chance. In the first act, we watch them train and Tre offers fatherly advise to this young man who might just be his ticket back to the big time. Donell’s big fight is not what he hoped for and so, when he returns five years later, he finds an empty Tre ,in an empty gym. Donell has become a married man with a little daughter, but still yearns to hit the championship he feels was his to win. What we see is a sparring match of words and personalities as well as a true boxing match between these two men, each trying to prove to the other ( and possibly themselves) that they are right!

A powerhouse of a story, directed so smoothly, you will not feel that you are watching a play, but instead, have taken down the fourth wall and are in Rock and Anvil Gym in Lafayette,Louisiana. Every little piece of this production is perfect. Joe Court’s sound, Mike Durst’s lighting design, the costumes by Myron Elliott and teh amazing props ( and there were a lot) by Toni Kendrick and the boxing instructions by Al Ortiz. This may be a two person play, but to make it as special as it is took an army of players, each doing their job to perfection. Of great importance for you to know- you do not have to be a boxing fan to enjoy this production, only someone who loves great theater!

“The Opponent” will continue at A Red Orchid Theatre located at 1531 N. Wells Street through December 2nd with performances as follows: 

Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

THERE IS NO PERFORMANCE ON THANKSGIVING and October 26th is a special performance with a reception*

Tickets range from $25-$30 ( a solid value for theater of this quality) * $45 includes reception

To order your tickets call 312-943-8722, visit the box office or online www.aredorchidtheatre.org

Wells and North can be a parking problem, so I always suggest using public transportation for this theater and there are plenty of dining spots so you can make an evening of it.

To see what others say, go to my home page, click on theatre in Chicago link, go to review round-up and click “The Opponent”



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