Stepping into Lab Theatre II at Atlas Performing Arts Center, the audience immediately sees that this show is beyond ordinary. The “stage” at center is a padded octagon, the same type used in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fights. The audience is invited into the cage for a glimpse at one woman’s battle.
… this show is beyond ordinary…a truly captivating story of physical and emotional strength.
The story follows Halo (Audrey Bertaux), a woman who recently moved back in with her mother after a messy divorce. She is struggling to find work or get on unemployment. She is drowning in all that is happening in her life and needs a release. She finds it in MMA and Gina (Maggie Donnelly), her trainer. This play is a strong testament of female strength.
Stephen Spotswood, is one of the producing playwrights of The Welders, the only playwright collective in Washington DC. His compelling play develops well-rounded female characters and they all are terribly flawed. He also gave Halo a relatable struggle without making it too overblown. Things were hard for her in a way that everyone can see a similar fight in their own lives. He sculpted a truly captivating story of physical and emotional strength.
There was a fantastic moment between Halo and Gina. During a training exercise, they each let out the things that they are sick of being told. It was a beautiful moment of catharsis for every person who has thought they would pummel the next person to tell them to smile, or not be too sensitive.
There was another great moment of emotional release when Halo, who recently took a job in direct sales, says everything that she is thinking to a customer on the phone. It is a beautifully descriptive monologue that turns heavy quick. People who have been abused in any sort of customer service job have definitely toed this line.
The relationship between Halo and Brinn (Jennifer J. Hopkins), her sister, was also a fantastic representation of the struggle of adult siblings. Brinn’s daughter, Elle, looks up to Halo and a lot and communicates with her more than her mother. Halo encourages Elle to do some experimentation and self-exploration. This causes tension not only between Halo and her sister but also between Brinn and her husband Warren (Nicklas Aliff).
Lisa Hodsoll played Terry, Halo and Brinn’s mother, a borderline alcoholic who has been working at Safeway for 20 years. Her hours keep getting cut and although she drives Halo nuts, her daughter feels a responsibility to care for her. Hodsoll also played the creepily cheerful HR representative who hires Halo and a fight opponent of Gina’s. Hodsoll’s versatility and flawless transitions in and out of characters is remarkable.
This ensemble of actors was truly excellent. They worked well together. This piece is physically and emotionally straining and not once did their energy falter. They made an amazing team.
Each actor was filled with strength and poise on stage. At some point, each of them fought and made a beautiful symbol of what Halo was facing in her daily life. Bertaux especially captured the essence of a lanky woman starting out awkwardly and soon able to fight like the rest of them. Her tall and thin build paired well with Donnelly’s shorter yet powerful body.
The Welders’ mission is to “establish an evolving, alternative platform for play development and production.” The company was founded in 2013 and was handed off to a completely new company just this year. “Girl in the Red Corner” marks the first production of Welders 2.0. If this is any indication, the DC area is in for some incredible theatre over the next four years before they hand it off to a new ensemble in 2020.
In the program, Spotswood encourages the audience to take sides, cheer, clap, make noise, like we are at a fight. Because it is a fight. We too were in that cage.
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission.
“Girl in the Red Corner” runs at the Atlas Performing Arts Center through Nov. 20. For more information and tickets click here.