Muzzle Flashes

Action photo from Lifeline's Three Musketeers


Violence Design by John Tovar
reviewed by William Endsley
The spare, Noh-style production enables John Tovar to exercise a likewise interpretive approach to his fight design, with most of the fights pantomimed. Particularly clever are the three beheadings featuring executioners brandishing quarterstaffs instead of axes. After tapping the floor twice, a third tap, followed by a swing landing well downstage of the victim signals the drop of heads into the waiting baskets. The actors writhing “headless” on the ground in their death agony constituted the show’s most violent moments.

Quarterstaffs are also employed in the final act for Tover's climactic battle, concluding in Richard being derived of all his hard-won horses - wheelchair, walker and robotic legs that carried him to his brief moment of glory. Click for full review. Richard III runs at the Steppenwolf Garage thru May 1.

The Duchess of Malfi
fight design by R&D Choreography

reviewed by William Endsley

R&D Choreography (aka Richard Gilbert and Victor Bayona) tease the final blood bath throughout the five acts, opening with a hand-to-hand skirmish among the pent-up courtiers. For the bloody finale, the exiled Duchess and her maid are strangled with golden cords. Then Bosoloa, our cynical narrator and henchman, mistakenly stabs Antonio, the Duchess’s surviving husband, thinking he is the Cardinal. Now too far in to turn back, Bosolao dispatches the Cardinal, whereupon the mad Ferdinand bursts in brandishing a sword. Bosoloa is wounded in the fight, but fatally stabs Ferdinand in a satisfying full-stage splash of blood. Click for review.


fight design by Will Bennett

If your play has a cock fight in it—not a playful cartoon feathers-and-squawk donnybrook, but one with claws and beaks and who are YOU calling chicken?—your challenge is to keep the audience from dissolving into laughter at the sight of human actors playing battling birds, especially when the owners and promoters of this blood spot are not rich exotic Mexican warlords, but Oakie manufacturers of beef jerky and fast-food burgers. The way that Red Theater accomplishes it is by dressing their avian gladiators in athletic gear with a color scheme suggesting barnyard fowl--grays, browns etc. The single scene of formal combat matches our hero, Odysseus Rex, against a reigning champion called Bat-Dolphin, who wears a caped-crusader luchador mask. Before the giggles can gain momentum, however, the battle begins, with daggers representing sharpened beaks slashing and jabbing. Click for full review.


fight design by Dwight Sora, Tyler Meredith, Jeff Kurysz and Vahishta Vafadari

reviewed by William Endsley

The language of love and the language of death are remarkably similar. This fact is vividly demonstrated in Oracle + Red Theater Chicago’s production of R+J: The Vineyard, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet performed in English and American Sign Language—the languages spoken by the citizens of that island colony circa 1890.

Weapons include a rapier for the hearing, mainland-born Tybalt, but a whaling hook for the deaf Mercutio, clamdigger knives for likewise deaf islanders Romeo and Paris and a harpoon, wielded like a quarterstaff, for Benvolio to break up the initial brawl on the waterfront promenade. In the double-duel at the play's mid-point, Romeo takes up the fallen Mercutio's weapon to attack Tybalt with savage fury that leads him to not only slay the bully, but to drag his prey by the hook thrust into into the latter's throat.

Click for full review.

fight design by Chuck Coyl and Ruben Gonzalez

Despite the conspicuous presence of athletes wearing padded gloves and silk trunks, Roy Williams' Sucker Punch is a play about fighting, and not just boxing. When the slum-dwelling citizens seeking refuge from poverty and violence in Charlie Maggs' shabby gymnasium aren't mixing it up in the ring, they're practicing in anticipation of achieving their moment of glory, and when they're not practicing, they're rough-housing with each other—sometimes playfully, sometimes not. In this angry world, men who long ago abandoned their hopes for a championship retain their scrappy defiance, and teenage girls from private-schools smack the speed-bag in moments of frustration.

Nothing thrills audiences like fisticuffs. After familiarizing us with the sound of leather-striking-leather during the opening sequence with Charlie and Tommy exercising with the padded mitts, and making us aware of the volatile racial tensions underlying the most innocuous of conversational exchanges, the fighters need only to swing and recoil—occasionally connecting with each other's gloves to elicit a "knap"—and we flinch, so sensitized have we become to expectations of violence. Click for full review.

fight design by David Woolley

Technically, the fight in Beth Henley's latest play is a boudoir scuffle— with additional specifications affecting the usual vocabulary of hurled perfume bottles and buffets with pillows. The arena, in this case, is a mid-sized Mississippi motel room in 1964, and the combatants are Bill and Susan, a dentist high on his own pharmaceuticals and a hysterical scotch-swilling ex-wife. The action involves the former subduing the latter with chloroform before head-slamming her to the floor several times. Oh, and the stage is a storefront arrangement that places the audience less than twenty feet from the action. Click for full review. The Jacksonian ran at Profiles Theatre.

fight design by Nick Sandys

When a play has violence in it, you call a violence designer, but Love and Human Remains also has lots and lots of athletic hyper-realistic SEX viewed by the audience at such close range, you can smell the sweat and spit.  Fight instructor Nick Sandys supplies an array of armtwists and strangleholds with surprisingly little repetition. As Sandys remarked, when asked about the challenges of working in so intimate a setting, "It was important to keep it tight and lean in that space—knaps must be so precise. I was also working with a lead actress who had never done stage combat, though she was surrounded by three of my ex-students from the DePaul school in the cast to keep everything safe." Click for full review.

fight design by Orion Couling
Reviewed by William Endsley

The show starts with some basic battery-powered rapier technique done in the dark, where a cast of almost 40 proceeds to run through every weapon and trick in the book. Rejecting pesky iambic pentameter, the troupe then skips right to the more sophisticated light saber and hand-to-hand battles. The witches even get into the act with some two-on-two-times-three action. A crossbow gun is seen, but not fired. Audiences loved the scene where a light saber appears to pierce the front of a combatant's skull and exit out the back. Finally, the boys put down the toys to let MonDuff dispatch the evil and arrogant MonBeth with his bare hands—but just for good measure, Couling gives us a dénouement featuring a realistic upstage pummeling, replete with satisfying punches and knaps, and ending with the hero cracking the Sith Lord’s spine. Click for full review.

DD7 in THUNDERBALLS: A James Bond Boylesque
Choreography by Kaitlin Fleharty
Reviewed by William Endsley

Thunderballs brings together Boylesque and Bond-girls in this bawdy spy spoof. Gunplay and hand-to-hand combat are integral parts of the genre, and Gorilla Tango Burlesque has its tongue firmly planted in its—um, cheeks as the boys take us through every cliché in the Bond playbook. The golden gun is a cheap prop and Agent DD7 casually strolls through a multiple popgun battle without a nick. Choreographer Kaitlin Fleharty mixes karate kicks, grapples and gun grabs with the boudoir tango that leads to the latter’s demise. Click for full review.

fight design by Sasha Smith

The script calls for a knife to be drawn (but nobody stabbed), a gun to be brandished (but nobody shot), a choke-hold to be applied (but nobody asphyxiated) and a bludgeoning—successful, this time—with the bartender's "enforcer" stick. When your director decides to enhance the visceral impact by weaving the action through the spectator space, care must be exercised when weapons are pointed and blood spilled.

The beat-down with the baseball bat occurs at the end of the bar abutting the bandstand to locate it as far from the audience as manageable in the tiny studio auditorium. The choke-hold is administered from behind in bear-hug fashion to conceal the actual point of contact, and the knife carried low by the stalker's side as he slinks past audience members, brushing knees and shoulders as he does. Click for full review.

fight direction by Richard Gilbert and Victor Bayona

"Who's gonna play the giant squid in rehearsal?" might seem the first question confronting the R & D duo when undertaking Jules Verne's Victorian submarine tale, but the bigger challenge when fitting the action into the lounge of an already subdivided loft space is making sure their actors "see" what they're fighting when it's almost wholly constructed of shadowy shapes barely visible in the darkness far from any trace of sunlight—located in the storage area behind the bar at one end of the room, with windows curtained off against outside street lamps. Mariners thrown about by high winds and furious storms also require synchronized imaginations to ascertain unity in registering the impact of each gust.

Fortunately, the action also includes a few tavern brawls where everyone can relax with good old-fashioned shoves, grapples, falls and hair-pulls, all transpiring within arm's reach of audience members. Even during the Golden Age of science-fiction, sailors will be sailors.

fight design by Ryan Bourque

The boss lady behind the latest scheme hides behind the curtains in the hero's apartment as the femme fatale enters, carrying a bag of golf clubs. As the latter unpacks the sporting implements, she asks our hero about his employer, casually securing a physical description of the hidden fugitive, including weight and height. She then swings the heavy iron, her aim connecting with the precise spot corresponding to her unseen victim's head, sending the target's unconscious body crumples to the ground.

Having revealed a talent for cudgeling her enemies, the femme fatale again intervenes when our hero finds himself pinned down on a sofa by yet a third woman, this one shouting in his face as she threatens him with a firearm. Our athletic rescuer retrieves a skillet from the upstage kitchenette and stealthily approaches the prone couple, old-cocking the intruder with a mighty swing—this time in the manner of a baseball bat. Click for full review. 

Fight Design by Geoff Coates
Reviewed by William Endsley

The legend of Bart Simpson has evolved by the twenty-second century to include an epic sword fight between our lovable scamp and the title villain. A destroyer of worlds, Mr. Burns is part Captain Hook, part Nutcracker's Mouse King and part Beetlejuice. Oh, and the entire battle takes place on the H.M.S. Pinafore. The saber fight begins with a demoralized Bart refusing to fight, but soon he is goaded to action by the sagacious Burns."Excellent!" Click for full review.

fight design by Sam Hubbard

It can't really be called a "geezer fight" when the older opponent is not yet forty, but when the match is between a streetwise teenage gang-banger and a stodgy classics professor, the odds are decidedly skewed in favor of the former. The initial confrontation in a barn may give the schoolteacher a field advantage—when the weapons are pitchfork vs. pocket-knife, a fight designer has little choice but to declare the fight a stand-off—but sooner or later, there must be a showdown of combatants equal in arms. Click for full review. 

Fight Design by Robert Tobin

Fortunately, the accelerated pace lending the show its looney-tunes ambiance supports suspension of belief allowing for cap-pistol and plastic rifles to be voiced by starting-gun blasts foleyed in from offstage. The hapless prisoner is strung up on portable scaffolding of a height permitting the gymnast to occasionally support himself on his hands. The first of the facsimile dead cats sports injuries conforming to the text's description, but the second is discarded with a swiftness that prevents its being recognized as a stuffed toy. Click for full review.

Something Wicked: Shakespeare’s Macbeth Re-Envisioned
Fight Design by Kyle Encinas
Reviewed by William Endsley

A pregnant Lady Macduff enters for her slaughter concealing a huge blood bag. She and her children are butchered in real time with a satisfying spray of blood as she is stabbed in a hunched-kneeling position. Macduff receives the news, and now we are ready for climactic hand-to-hand combat filling the entire theater. Encinas serves up an athletic, but always believable, finale that includes dagger drops, tumbles and fist blows, ending in Macbeth gutted with an intensity that sends blood flying across one wall of the theater (as well as one lucky—or unlucky?—audience member). Click for full review. Something Wicked ran at the Transcendent Ensemble Theatre Company.

The Night Alive
fight design by Matt Hawkins

The play opens with teenage street waif Aimee, her face bloodied after a beating inflicted by her boyfriend, carried in and doctored by middle-aged Tommy. Act One ends with the victim's consort invading Tommy's bed-sit to menace the latter's sidekick with a claw hammer before pursuing him into the W.C. for a savage thrashing, the horror enhanced by the upstairs tenant's oblivious thumping on the ceiling to demand a stop to the noise.

The slaying when Tommy stands up to this beast is more problematic, since we want to see the SOB get what's coming to him. Matt Hawkins engineers the coup-de-grâce by first instructing Kenneth and Aimee to skirmish upstage until they are both wedged into a corner of the galley, whereupon Tommy approaches from downstage, his burly frame effectively covering the two wiry combatants from our view. After a moment, all three part, whereupon Kenneth staggers downstage, his body turning to display a kitchen-knife handle protruding from his back. Click for a full review. The Night Alive ran at Steppenwolf.

fight design & choreography by R & D Choreography
reviewed by William Endsley

We get to experience Hippolito and Leanito’s side-sword duel up close. R & D Choreography’s duel is textbook-sufficient, but the show-stopper is the tango danced twice by Bianca – once expertly with her uncle with whom she is having an incestuous affair, and then again more awkwardly, with the sophomoric ward she is forced by her father to marry. A well-danced tango is sensual almost to the point of violence. Click for full review.

fight design by Maureen Yasko

Maureen Yasko succeeds in clearing enough floor space for a quarterstaff clash utilizing brooms, and for a quasi-Chad Deity grapple-claw-and-hair-pull match, though a shotgun barrel must be raised horizontal from far upstage in order to discharge itself at an indoor target. An actress with the gymnastic skills to hang from the rafters and traverse halfway across the stage is handy for a full-cast melée, too.

Most of the mayhem, however, originates in shadow-boxing techniques, wherein the object of the attack creates the actual menace: stuffed-toy cats leaping from high windows, or heavy ropes magically transformed into deadly serpents, are manipulated by their victims to simulate struggle. Yasko's scheme owes a debt to David Woolley's "Fight Tricks in Small Spaces" classes, but perhaps the time has also come for instruction in "Puppetry Combat" or "Battling the Inanimate." Ask for it at upcoming workshops. Click for full review.

Aurora Theatre Company, San Francisco
fight design by Dave Maier
reviewed by Lincoln Davis

Bobby started down on the floor in defense position, holding himself up on the arms of a sturdy old office chair (the kind covered with indestructible green vinyl over a cushion with springs inside), with the top of his head on the seat. Teach chose a shovel from the huge menu of possible weapon choices scattered over the set and hanging from the ceiling overhead, in order to whale on the bottom of the chair with a sort of golf stroke, hitting the metal bars underneath for noisy effect.
It was shocking, all right, but a little confusing as to how Bobby got hurt so badly, because the chair was obviously making a very good shield. Click for full review.

fight design by John Tovar

For the six-corpse bloodbath that ends the play on its grim note, Cassio and Roderigo brawl with standard-issue utility knives, but Iago's wheelchair has been outfitted with an array of hidden weapons—including a four-sided spike affixed to a lugwrench concealed in the arm-rest, which he draws forth to dispatch the exploited Roderigo, along with a colt automatic under the seat for shooting Emelia, while directing onlookers' attention elsewhere. For his part, Othello smothers his bride with a pillow, as Shakespeare's text instructs, and retrieves a fallen dagger to stab Iago in his useless leg, but then extracts a cobra-knife from the sleeve of his tunic to deliver his own fatal wound. Click for full review.


fight design by Geoff Coates

The major displays of violence fall more within the category of stunts than fights, but an arrow fired from a crossbow at a range of barely four feet, only to be pulled from its target with a prosthetic eye attached, still requires a fight designer to sell the illusion, however slapstick it may be. An escape from a dungeon after an explosion topples the door is a crowd-pleaser, but nobody could anticipate the later arrival of reinforcements by means of breaking right through a stone wall  that collapses in pile of rubble. No cavalry charging to the rescue was ever met with a more enthusiastic endorsement by its audience. Click for full review.

fight design by Richard Gilbert and Victor Bayona

Tanzi's signature coup de grâce is the "Venus Flytrap"—a name calling to mind some variation on a leg- scissors, instead of the behind-the-knee lock that allows the audience to see our heroine's expression of triumph as she immobilizes her opponent. Explains Gilbert, "What we wanted for the Venus Flytrap, primarily, was that it be a honey trap—something crotch-related that looked like an invitation, but ended up in a reversal—and that it be sexually humiliating. The upstage-downstage lock did all that—and, for a bonus, it could be either a very fast-tap submission, or a full pin. Click for full review.

fight design by Laurie McNeilly and Timothy Gregory

Before the nearly twenty-minute fracas is over, the contenders will exchange throws, kicks, punches, grapples, arm-twists, head and leg-locks, buffets with sofa-cushions, multiple swings with a baseball bat, slashes with kitchen knives, bludgeoning with a skillet (which the target of the assault then blocks with his feet), a doormat improvised as a shield against a barrage of flying crockery, and spectacular acrobatics involving both men hanging from an overhead light fixture as they kick-box one another in space. Click for full review.

fight design by Glenese Hand

reviewed by Maggie Speer

In a key scene of the play, Lavinia's husband Bassanius (Craig James) is murdered, leaving his wife to be dragged offstage by Chiron (Greg Manizza) and Demetrius (Andy Crooks). When we next see her, she is completely covered in blood, her  amputated hands effectively depicted by the use of clever prosthetics and the brutalization she has endured evoking both horror and pity.

The infamous severing of Titus’ hand is accomplished ingeniously. Titus (Dan Houle) placing his hand in a vise to be sawed off by the duplicitous Aaron (Reggie Vaughn) who then caresses his own face with the severed hand to share with the audience his joy in this cruel act of violence—at one point, squeezing the hand to make it twitch unexpectedly and drawing an audible reaction from the audience. Click for full review.

fight design by Matt Hawkins

Most playgoers don’t know that longbows—which could be reloaded much more quickly than the old-fashioned crossbows—were the secret weapon that won the war for the English. With the assistance of sound coordinator Lindsay Jones, however, Hawkins highlights their appearance with all the suspense of an action-movie: first we hear menacing bass-heavy music, then the line of archers take their positions high up on the bridge, turning slowly downstage to loose their bowstrings, bringing forth a chorus of screams, presumably those of the surprised enemy. Click for full review.

fight design by Ryan Bourgue

Fortunately, Ryan Bourque is savvy enough to remember that a riot is less about attacking specific targets than it is about creating chaos. Alarums and excursions—running, jumping, kicking the air, whooping and rebel-yelling—require no actual combat, and since messy fights are always more fun, debris is flung up the aisles onto the stage and a trash can is upended by a hooligan who sprints the length of one audience section, scattering paper over the feet of front-row playgoers, before using the can itself to repel an attacker. Click for full review.

fight design by Nick Sandys

trickSandys borrows a trick from Edward Hall's legendary "Rose Rage" Henry VI and has the ambushed student cringe in defensive posture on the ground, while the attackers throw down his schoolboy's satchel next to him and proceed to whale on it with all their might and fury, until the red fabric within spills out onto the floor, echoing the silk "blood" employed in Peking opera. Sandys denies this arcane basis for his scheme, declaring that since stage combat practice offers no safe way to depict frenzied mob violence, his only answer was to allow the attackers to "have at" some sturdy object--like a canvas bag. Click for full review.

Fight Design by Alex Farrington

Reviewed by William Endsley

Resetting the story of Geppetto and Pinocchio in the wild west calls for gun play and saloon girls. Oh, and there's also the matter of the wooden boy come to life. Alex Farrington stages a brief scuffle for the whores prior to the denouement where father and son engage in a tepid quarterstaff fight ending in our hero shooting the skin-shedding son in the back, using a gun with a sandalwood grip - presumably the same wood that made our mesmerizing boy. Click for full review.

Fight Design by Orion Couling

A mounting board in an upstage corner holds rapiers, broadswords and daggers at the ready for the scenes that require them, and occupies the downstage environs with villains brandishing such exotic equipage as crozier, sledge-hammer, blacksnake whip and—just before intermission, naturally—a large jar, allegedly made of melting ice, containing a cobra whose fangs are chomped on a grenade! Of course, our heroes manage to free themselves of their bonds and roll the, literally, triple-threat device off the back of the stage to detonate harmlessly in a burst of foleyed bang-and-boom. Indeed, most of the weapons are no sooner displayed than they are abandoned in favor of kicks, punches, throws and titty-twists—a fight vocabulary safer for both actor and audience, but nonetheless executed with speed, precision and perfectly-timed knaps making for suitably breathtaking sequences of thrilling suspense. Click for full review.

Fight design by Alex Tey

vehicleA variety of exotic objects have been employed as weapons in stage combat (they're not called "fruit and fabric fights" for nothing), but when a play proposes a grieving teenager on a "fixie" bike invading the Realm of the Dead in search of her deceased comrade, what violence designer can resist having that velocipedal mount joining in a scuffle—in this case, pitting our intrepid heroine against a pack of Lethe-drinking hipsters in a struggle that finishes with her swinging the wheeled vehicle through the air in a slashing arc as she would a flail.

"The heaviest bike in the show is Hel's recumbant-Sting Ray tandem," says Alex Tey, "Eddie and Ora's fixies are actually pretty light -- with the tradeoff being that you have to pick it up and wave it around! [Movement coordinator] Nathan Drackett and I had fun figuring how to use the bikes in ways they weren't utilized in the rest of the show."


fight design by John Tovar

The matches are played in the locker room as the script instructs, but instead of relying solely on the dialogue to tell us what's occuring in the ring, we see the fighters backlit to appear silhouetted against the glass-paned gymnasium wall. Since it's the actual actors bobbing and weaving and throwing punches with gloves up, the sweat we see and smell when they quit the arena to appear onstage is also real—the first step to becoming a contender at awards time. Click for full review.

fight design by David Woolley

whencoining "A fight is always more fun when you can make a mess!" David Woolley once declared, before coining the term "Fruit and Fabric fight" to designate a full-stage street scene melee, typically involving produce vendors and laundrymaids (e.g. Scene One of Romeo and Juliet) and its close cousin, the "Fur and Feather fight" (a boudoir version of same, with pillows bursting and spewing forth their stuffing). The whoop-de-do moment in Raven Theatre's Playboy of the Western World, however, is the rarely-seen "Furniture and Ligature fight"—in this case, utilizing several lengths of rope and one extremely sturdy table. Click for full review.

fight design by Bare Knuckles ensemble

There's no denying the DIY atmosphere invoked by a set design relying heavily on muslin curtains and manual scene-shifts, but the low-budget ambiance is quickly dispelled once Jeremy Fodor and Keith Hand's aural and visual incendiary effects kick in, triggering showers of gore and gunfire in quantities necessitating a mop-up break mid-show. The close-up fighting is likewise executed with seamless skill and agility, despite occurring only inches away from spectators, elevating the Bare Knucks' professional qualities well above those of kids playing back-yard re-enactment. If this is what they accomplish on what is reported to be a budget of twelve dollars, think what they could do with, say, fifty smackers. Click for full review.


fight design by Ryan Bourque

The good news about working with young actors is that they can run laps around the auditorium, scale staircases like Rocky Balboa and jump from eight-foot platforms while still retaining enough wind to recite lines. The bad news is that their swift recovery from injury and the psychological resilience it engenders leads them to think that it's fun to tumble headfirst off the stage or crash-and-roll down the aisles. "These kids were incredible!" says Bourque, "They approached these fights with more maturity than some of my adult combatants.  I only had to tell them once to be aware of keeping their self-control and not getting lost in the moment." Click for full review.

fight design by Elizabeth Styles

Women are generally less self-conscious about same-sex body contact than are men, and thus can comfortably engage in such quasi-erotic rough-housing as tango dips and bumper-hugs. These tactile expressions of sorority are reflected throughout the play, allowing us to clearly perceive the trust and affection shared by the squabbling comrades even as they chafe under the friction engendered by their differing social orientations—subtext left wholly unexplored when linked to male-bonding rites, but contributing a whole new level of interpretation to the dramatic dynamic. Click for full review.

fight design by Matt Hawkins
Reviewed by William Endsley

Danny goes to a gun shop and then to a whorehouse where he meets a young girl he kidnaps. The pivotal scene then begins, with Danny bringing gun, girl, gas-can and body-bag onstage. He burns her with a cigarette, pretends to set her on fire and finally shoots her in the stomach (the shot is not live, but recorded as a part of the excellent sound design by Matthew Chapman). After dutifully capturing the carnage in cell phone pics, as the blood pools out onto the stage, our GI is left to deal with the results of his murderous actions. Like a good boy, he cleans up his mess before heading to the pub. Click for full review.


fight design by Rick Sordelet

DannyRick Sordelet's secret weapon is a Valvert played by Ryan Bourque, the wiry young actor who made 50-plus Danny Goldring look like Chuck Norris in The Earl, and thus has ample experience at playing beanbag—or in this case, pincushion—roles opposite codgers of inferior martial skills. In this production, Cyrano's goal is more to humiliate than injure his upstart challenenger, but just so we know the good guy from the bad, Sordelet twice has Valvert fight dirty, rejecting Cyrano's chivalrous offers at sporting reconciliation to instead ambush his opponent (unsuccessfully, of course). Click for full review.

fight design by Richard Gilbert & Victor Bayona

savagelyWhen ex-jailbird Larry Neumann Jr. emerges from his first bath since his release, the scars covering his naked body—mementos from his fellow inmates—are shocking because we don't expect to see them, not because they are painted in lurid Sweeney Todd day-glo. When his brother, played by Darrell Cox, is forced to savagely beat his helpless sibling, there are no exaggerated grimaces and grunts, and when he finally gets the drop on the badass orchestrating the brutality, the efficiency with which he slits his adversary's carotid artery with the serrated back edge of his commando knife, before stabbing with its point, is a lesson in understatement. Click for full review.

fight design by John Moran

A trash can gets punched to tinfoil with fists, a wooden park bench has its slats kicked out, knives and guns are waved around, an Armani suit just begs to be despoiled and it's only the first act! What's of most concern to a fight designer, however, is that it all occurs on an 8 X 8-foot traffic island populated by two former gang-bangers, replicated in Urban Theater's storefront—a room so narrow that the curbside debris spills onto the fully visible stageside desk serving as the tech booth. Click for full review.

fight design by Sam Hubbard

someoneIt's a musical, first of all, and nearly everybody in it handier with a guitar than a six-gun—so what's that big shiny Maxsell replica colt pistol doing downstage so close to the audience that the front row can smell the blankfire cap when it goes off? Fortunately, someone in the American Blues production had the wit to call in Sam Hubbard (albeit too late for him to receive playbill credit) to show Matt Brumlow's scrappy little hillbilly singer how to fire it safely at the sky and at the ground at least six feet away from whomever he intends to scare with that there shootin' iron. Thus is everybody—perpetrator, target and bystanders alike—kept safe from powder burns and sprayed wadding.

fight design by Ryan Bourque

A father first tells his son's obstinate girl friend to leave and never return, she says she can't and bids him kill her—and damned if he doesn't up and do just that! The obstinate lady issuing the dare goes so  far as to declare, "I guess you'll have to break my neck" and three sentences later, she's dead. This all occurs in cold blood, by the way,  with nobody losing their composure—so where does the psychological set-up come from to move the participants into launching positions? Click for full review.

fight design by Rick Sordelet

There are two a-go-go clubs: the wholesome one with the high-tech stage and the sleazy one with the poles, where the owner pushes drugs, the girls wear thousand-yard stares and their audience ogles and leers. When our heroine—who works in the first type of burly-show—declares her intention to rescue her sister from the second, its slimeball proprietor attempts to intervene and, unsurprisingly, gets his comeuppance.The only question is, who gets to administer it? Candidates include the lost waif's meek boyfriend Jimmy and her fiery sister, Alex, both of whom we are already eager to champion. Fight designer Rick Sordelet solves the problem by having them both do the honors together. Click for full review.

fight design by John Tovar

The term "love scene" once referred to a simple hug and kiss, with both partners engaging in no struggle more severe than that of who gets to face the audience. Nowadays, by contrast, it is likely to involve gymnastics more akin to tournament wrestling. In this case, the romantic scenario verges on rape—not the stranger-danger kind, but the domestic variety enacted within long-term intimate relationships (and just to be sure we know the difference, we first see the inept-hustler version of the charade). Click for full review.


fight design by Matt Hawkins

Matt Hawkins' roundabout choreography for House Theatre's production of Cyrano had swordsmen chasing each other up staircases and over balconies, but the apparatus on Lifeline Theatre's high-ceilinged, but cramped-floored space takes it to, literally, a whole new level, its open structure providing ladders, poles and cross-bars for actors to climb up, slide down, spin around, swing on and drop from. Oh, we get the mandatory clash-of-steel duels, dagger-stabs, a grisly execution-by-strangling (similar to that in Strawdog's 2012 Duchess of Malfi) and—whattaya know?—a scene where the musketeer brigade actually fires musketslaps.! What pulls the audience into the play's universe at the fifteen-minute mark, however, is the melée that begins with nine fighters (and one bystander) in a 28 X 30-foot arena and proceeds to scatter them everywhere but in the audience's laps. Click for full review.

fight design by Ryan Bourque

The damsel whose sweet-nothings encompass declarations like, "I want to suck your eyes right out of your head!" is played by Mary Williamson. "Those slaps were expertly executed non-contact by the slap queen herself," Bourque rhapsodizes," I don't know how she does it, but she sells it very well!" Add in a catalog of domestic violence grapples, knee-and-elbow jabs, arm-and-ear twists, all accumulating in a ritual strangulation with a belt (this last maneuver inflicted upon a boyfriend twice her size) and not only is it likely that this actress will be cast more frequently in she-who-kicks-ass roles. Click for full review.