The Factory Theater’s “Fight City” imagines a 2077 dystopic society in Central City, which bears some striking resemblances to Chicago. Rallies for equality collide with anti-establishment gangs and harsh police forces. The difference? It is set in a world where societal order has been flipped on its head: a disease that decimates the male population and leaves most male-identified individuals sterile brings about a new, female-dominated society. However, the Central City Police Department still relies on intense aggression and brutality.
“Fight City” takes many risks in imagining this new world but its intentions are unclear from the beginning. The plot line lacks nuance in how gender roles are reversed. Sexist actions and speech are said exactly as they are said in 2017, only now with women as the perpetrators.
It seems that the message playwright and Factory Theater artistic director Scott OKen is trying to send is that it’s not about gender but about how power transfers and corrupts absolutely. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reflect in the script or the performance. No matter how you slice it, this play is still about gender. In addition to the actions of the women simply mirroring those of men today, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals are not explored whatsoever. The lack of subtly seems to connect itself with the perspective of the male gaze.
The subject of the “Sponsored Male,” which alludes to workforce inequality experienced by women in the 1950s, is left mostly untouched, along with explorations of citizens’ unrest, police brutality, street warfare and reproductive technologies.
There is potential to explore this world but the script only skims the surface of it. Perhaps if there was more attention to these societal dilemmas and less attention to fight scenes, it might be easier to swallow the red pill. As the old saying goes, too much of any good thing can be a bad thing. In “Fight City” sucker punches fly across the stage at the first whiff of conflict.
It is important to note: the sexual assault scene was an unwelcome surprise. Trigger warnings are a must, especially given a story that is portraying reversed gender roles in a dystopic future.
Still, Kim Boler (Erica) delivers a diabolical and menacing villain, exhibiting a camaraderie with her cronies that is tantalizing. Carla Hamilton’s costumes and makeup fit the characters particularly well and draw the audience into the world of Central City. Jill Oliver’s direction moves the play along at an even tempo. And though the amount of fight scenes might be excessive, Maureen Yasko and Chris Smith’s choreography itself is expertly executed.
Despite the merits of the stage and the potential for a conversation on gender, police brutality and more, the script falls flat and leaves the audience out in the cold. (Danielle Levsky)
The Factory Theater, 1623 West Howard, thefactorytheater.com, $10-$25. Through August 26.