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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper


Or: Nazis, Ninjas, and the no-holds beatings of the Heart

We all have them. The little fantasies we cherish about the way our lives are supposed to go. The little scripts were we put that petty bully in their place, ride off into the sunset with the one we pine for, win fame and foturen and the respect we've always known we deserved; to make a movie of our lives and be the hero of it.

Following a nasty incident thirteen year old Trevor Dawkins chose to make his fantasy a reality and translated it into "Tears of Shanghai" a violence and stereotype saturated screenplay; part Casablanca, part Kill Bill. Now, at twenty seven, Dawkins has turned to the Neo-futurists to put "Tears of Shanghai", onstage. But his gung-ho friends bring not only their skills to his fantasy but their own troubles and dreams too, and begin to dilute his vision beyond recognition.

The story within the story: Russell Dakota (Dawkins) the dangerous but kind'a mopey champion fighter, sulks in the rainy shadows of 1937 Shangai, pining for his boss the pick pocket and heist-mistress Elona Levingston (Brenda Arellano) and trying to keep out of the way of gangsters and the local axis contingent headed by Col. Maximilian Sturm (Mike Hamilton) of the third reich and Major Tanaka (Davia Bhandari) of the imperial army as well as Tanaka's terrifying ninja/samurai/commando/supersolider Ran (Dallas Tolentino). This "Presentation" of film nourish grit and swelling martial theme is commingled with the humorous "Process" of the actors trying to tweeze a coherent story out of Dawkins imagination and taking it upon themselves to fix the one demential representations of women and asians carried over by the thirteen year old boy and the twenty seven year old man. It's sweet spot though lies in-between these two states, a "Processtation" where character and actor simultaneously work through the delicate balance of battle and choreography and the unpack the bitter truths they carry in their heart.

Though at times the show has a capacity towards extraneous movement sequences (though totally worth it for the movement sequence jokes) and sweeping let-us-use-this-situation-to-discuss-the-human-condition-(are-you-listening-audience?) speeches Haymaker remains both openly hilarious in its humor, skillful in its physical metaphor and mind-boggingly smart in its fighting, particularly on the parts of Mr. Tolentino and Sarah Forance (Samstag). "Tears of Shanghai" is filled with as much epic and ridiculous martial artistry as you would expect from teenage boys and action movie directors (states that are practically synonymous) but there's something more visceral about a no holds barred beat down with back flips and propulsions and improvised weaponry when it's happening inches in front of you and the combatants politely a ask you to move your feet so they may pound their opponents heads into the floor. Oddly scored and folly-ed by Andrew Tham and "accounted" by Indra Andreshak the battles go from merely ambitious to improbable to physics defying but never quite enter into the uncanny valley of discomforting actual actor danger nor the stale of dull deadliness, violence for its own sake.

This is the first show, for my own part at least, that the neo-futurist tradition acknowledging the actor before the character really has payed off; in part because the cast, in both devising and performance, prove so open and willing to share their own fantasies with us. Rather than wishing they'd cut back to the story I was glad to see the high hearted horsing around, see the ensemble exchange characters like well worn coats, and mark "Breakout" characters like Arellano's dagger loving "Stabitha". Tolentino is particularly commendable for his full physicalizations, though Fornace snappy matter-of-factness in remolding the script, Dawkins and Kevin Duvall's (Lukas Haas, the mad nazi scientist) talent for facial expressions are also memorable. But as strong as the ensemble is the story belongs to Dawkins and Arellano. At first He comes across as steamrollery and brusque, as blunt as Russell Dakota's fists, but as the night wares on we realize he is holding everything he sees to that perfect fantasy the film he harbored for fourteen years; trying to connect his cast mates to that vision and terrified that they cannot be exactly what he wants them to be. By contrast, She is very much in the world, our friend and guide to the world of Dawkins. Her Elona is that a fully formed heroine, not just a fem-fatal, and her turns as Brenda Arellano are sharp, warm and winning. As the two stretch the bonds of their collaboration and their friendship, we find ourselves hopping against hope that both criminals and actors will be able to fulfill both their dreams and live out their fantasies hand to hand.

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