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Stage Preview: Fight Club

This week and next, Urban Aphrodite puts on a live performance of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club in the dank n' dirty bowels of Arkham.
Last updated: 2015-11-09
In the two and a half years since its inception, Urban Aphrodite's taken on a number of stage productions whose film versions have reached cult classic status -- Rosemary's Baby, Eyes Wide Shut and Willy Wonka, amongst others.

With Fight Club, UA invites more "but in the movie..." comparisons than the theater company will ever receive. You'd be hard put to find someone who hasn't seen director David Fincher's take on the Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name. It's been over 15 years since its release, and tweens today still squeal about how much they love the Fight Club movie.

So, a live performance of the story. Gimmick? Train wreck? We can't tell you, since the play doesn't open until this Saturday, May 2. We did sit in on yesterday's rehearsal, though, to get an idea of what to expect.

UA is billing the show as an "immersive theater experience". Ann James, UA Director, explained:

"The idea is that the audience is part of the show. They'll be sitting really close to the action. For pre-show and intermission, we'll bring them into the story with counseling circles, boxing training... and during the show, actors will talk directly to individuals in the audience, who will sometimes have to shuffle around if the actors are moving around them. There will be a screen projection meant to get their input throughout the show too."

That brings us to another point of curiosity -- the venue. The show's being staged at Arkham, a dank basement-level club with sticky floors and an unavoidable musk of mildew mixed with the stale pheromones of drunk college kids.

James told us that "Arkham was perfect for this story -- basically just a hole in the ground, and I was looking at dark underground parking lots for Fight Club for a long time. This is the first theater show that Arkham is doing. Took some convincing, but I'm persuasive."

From the looks of it, UA's using Arkham's space to good effect -- utilizing the dance floor, stage, bars, second level mezzanine, multicolored lighting, screen projector and booming sound system, like the way that ancient Native Americans used every part of the bison they hunted.

I sat in on an early rehearsal, so I didn't get to see the actors at their 100%, or in costume, so an appraisal on the acting isn't really in order. What I can say is that Director Tim College, who based this interpretation largely on Palahniuk's book, has made an interesting choice to split the role of the protagonist -- the "Narrator", better known as "Edward Norton's character" -- among four different actors.

Each of these actors is meant to represent a different dimension of the Narrator's personality. According to College, "The thing about the movie, it's so big and has colored everyone's impression of the story that it's almost seminal. The movie is fast-paced and moves very quickly, using cinematic techniques like flashback, montage, voiceover to do that."

"To do that with one actor on a stage is a lot different. I needed a Narrator who could talk directly to the audience, like a voiceover, and a Narrator who could engage with the other characters on stage, in immediate action. Four just became the magic number. We've just got to be very careful about uniform costumes so that the audience doesn't get confused."

One of the four Narrators, Brian Wang, said: "I represent the intense, uncontrolled and inner fantasy of the narrator. When he feels frustration and helplessness, I am the explosion of anger or vengeance that most people suppress. I am the primal id, expressing my emotions with actions and outbursts."

Peter Damgaard: "My side of the personality would be the more naive one, wishing everything to go according to expectations, which unfortunately usually doesn't seem to work out very well for my character."

Aaron Garcia: "[Mine] is the one who is not cynical, and the most self-aware. He knows what's coming next in the play -- he sees and knows the outcome of the journey. If there is one narrator that best encapsulates Tyler and himself, I think mine would be the closest."

Archibald McColl IV: "I play the 'emotional' narrator. Over the course of the play, Narrator falls in love with Marla, someone who is just as broken as he is, whilst developing animosity towards Tyler... [and though he] had a complete psychological break from what we call reality, there is something truly accessible about him, in that, at some point of our lives we have all had an existential crisis in some form."

On Fight Club's only female lead, Marla, actress Awesta Zarif said: "Helena Bonham Carter's performance of Marla is pretty iconic -- as much as I enjoy watching her, I didn't use her as a guide of any sort. I wanted to have my own perspective and motivations for Marla based on Tim's adaptation, in which Marla is not as fleshed out as she is in the book. She's still the dark, death-obsessed Marla, but her sensitive side becomes very clear in this adaptation because we only see her through her dynamic with the Narrator."

So there you have it -- a little preview of what to expect, plus some photos of guys fighting on cardboard mats. Still hesitant to make an assessment, but at the very least, UA's show is bringing in something new and different into Shanghai's English language stage scene.

UA's Fight Club runs from May 2 to May 7. Saturday's opening night is already sold out, as is Sunday's night performance. There's space in the venue for 150-200 people, but the cast and crew say that it's best to arrive early if you really want to take part in the whole "immersive experience" part of the show.

Email to reserve tickets at presale cost for 200rmb. Otherwise, they're 220rmb each at the door.

Smarttickets has them at 200rmb, for the shows on May 4-7. Click here for that.


Photos by Brandon McGhee