4 Stars out of 4
The second installment of Chicago Shakespeare’s Big in Belgium series, Fight Night is a work of political brilliance of the ilk of Karl Rove. It is a chilling counterpoint to this election season even as early voting begins in Cook County. It is an experience you need to have right this minute.
As you enter the Upstairs Theatre at Chicago Shakes at Navy Pier, you are handed an electronic voting clicker. There is a square in the middle of the black box with two attractive bow tie clad monitors at a desk behind it. There are two TV screens above the stage/ring. Angelo Tijssens, our host for the evening, enters in a checked suit and bow tie . A boxing ring style mike descends from the ceiling. In a clipped dry delivery, Angelo simultaneously teaches us “the game” of the evening and captures, Nate Silver style, the audience demographics. We are taught how to vote and told of course our vote is anonymous. And then “The Candidates” enter clad in hooded robes. They pull down the hoods and we are asked to vote on our candidate based on appearance alone. The one black man wins. And then the Candidates speak. The loser, a winsome Max Wind, asks to be our underdog. We are asked to vote again. The totals are different this time. The candidates are asked who they think will vote for them. It is eery how spot on the questions and our votes are. It is uncomfortable to see our biases on view.
And then the elimination rounds begin. It is emotionally difficult. I find myself wondering how much of the show is scripted and how much is improv. I make a mistake and see how not being able to take your vote back leads to consequences. In one vote round, Aaron Gordon notes that our apathy contributes to his victory. Where have we heard that before? Candidates combine votes. The young, pretty Charlotte De Bruyne is the first eliminated. We are asked to identify our own flaws: are we a little bit racist, a little bit violent, a little bit sexist or perfect? The candidates note which they are. Early on Angelo has told us the demographics of the majority of us; we are then asked if we trust the majority. No we do not. I would love to see the evening again and see how it changes.
Then the host, Angelo, stages a coup and becomes a candidate. The “game” begins to self direct. Aurelie Lannoy encourages voters to give up their votes, and some do. And in a very creepy moment, Aaron, who is winning, asks us: do we ALLOW them to leave or FORCE them to stay—the semantics here are deeply disturbing. They depart. And it turns out we aren’t anonymous as the bean counters in the back reveal who did not participate. The tyranny of the majority is clear. And then in a stunning and quiet finale the data compiled gives us a terrifying fictional winner. That is US.
You will find yourself thinking deeply about this powerful and insidious show long after you have left the theatre. It is fascinating that it wasn’t made in America since its analysis or reflection of the process is so direct. It is pleasant, and on its face, non offensive. But after you have been manipulated, data scraped and called to count, this work will stay with you. Go see. Go be counted. Vote.
Inspire your activism, but rush to see this most important work of commentary on democracy because Onterend Goed’s Fight Nightcloses before election day: playing Tuesday through Sundays, Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre until November 4th, 2018h.For tickets and information go to www.ChicagoShakes.com or call 312-596-5600.