A Story Told in Seven Fights @ The Neo-Futurists

3 out of 4 Stars


The stage was sparse; besides a prop tucked hidden away here and there, there was nothing. I suppose they wouldn’t want a chair snapping anyone's neck as they duke it out. Against the background, a gigantic wall of box-fans; blacks and some reds, with a couple purples thrown in. Was this foreshadowing the bruises all these players would take?


Undoubtedly. A Story Told in Seven Fights revolves around a series of fights and riots which broke out throughout Europe’s art scene of the early 20th century, started by a group of Dadaist and Surrealist artists intent on breaking down and destroying every possible ‘system’ they could dream up. It’s not often you see a show with such an incredible premise. I imagine it’s even less often where you see one so surreally ahistorical.


Rather than a suspenseful drama of anarchistic artists in their times, Seven Fights breaks with fists clenched into surreality with incredibly unreliable narrators, and winds up as quite a way to showcase some theatrical beat-downs. Beyond that, though, Trevor Dawkins (creator) and Tony Santiago (director) and friends suggest we must be cognizant of how violent the reverberations of an artistic movement may be, and argue, very surreally, that contemporary artists should be mindful of this.


Trevor Dawkins, and comrades Jen Ellison, Rasell Holt, Arti Ishak, TJ Medel, Kendra Miller, Stephanie Shum, and Jeff Trainor play both themselves and the various characters of the time, such as Arthur Cravan, Tristan Tzara, and Jack Johnson (yes, there are puns). In ways which at moments feel eerily reminiscent of our own times, Dawkins and team connect moments of the turbulent 19-teens and ‘twenties Europe with unsettling current events. We’ve seen this all play out before, they say, and we all know where this will lead; few of us are ok with it. I fully agree. Though as frightening as urinals representing the height of an artistic movement may be[1], the ideals of “Youth and Revolt” as put forth by Surrealism and Dadaism--in as much a way as deliberately anti-rational movements can have ideals--don’t appear to resonate as much with Dawkins and his fellow iron crushin’ comrades.


The play passes between stage-fights and fourth-wall breaking cut-ins, as they plow through what teeters between fantastically performed fighting (thanks to Fight Director Gaby Labotka), expositions on the art movements and each character’s history, and bits of 4th-wall preachiness that always felt a little too long. I have in my notes, “The Surreality preaches like peaches.” An apt description.


To be frank, I had wished there was more to the fighting. The WWE this is not. While there were more than enough punches and kicks to go around, why not have thrown in some weapons? Sure, there was a gun which our man Arthur Cravan urged people to have fired into a crowd randomly, killing as many as possible in the name of art or something, but...why not throw in a sword prop? Is Dadaism not not-rational? Are stage-fights not so much more fun with swords? Of course, this being such a non-rational adventure, perhaps I was naive to believe that the fighting itself would remain just that--fighting--instead of melting into ballet.


It leaves one feeling rather schizo about it all. Knowledge of the potential power of art movements is important--Cravan’s urging of people to commit mass-murder suggests arts potential for abuse --but it’s hard to judge a play trying drive that home when its narrators are so damn unreliable they end up bickering (not only amongst themselves), and a fight or seven break out.


A Story Told in Seven Fights is on until the 7th of April, and runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm. Tickets are $10-$25 and can be found alongside additional information at neofuturists.org or by calling 773.275.5255.


[1] Marchel Duchamp, famous for The Fountain, was of course heavily influenced by Dada.


I've had the fortune of being born to a painter, and since childhood have been involved in the arts in some form or another. After attaining degrees in Music Performance and Cognitive Science from Northwestern University, and after being exposed to the wonderful theater scene there, I realized I'd benefit as an artist if I continued contributing to the community. I believe an important part to being an artist is having exposure to as many sorts of Art as possible. Theater is one of the most variegated arts, and I feel all the richer for playing the small role I have in the Chicago theater scene (hopefully, Chicago is all the richer for having me!)