Reconaissance Mission: The Tournament
We are all of us slaves to our passions, so there's no pretending that Live Action Theatre's debut, the 2013 Capital Fringe entry The Continuing Adventures of John Blade, Superspy didn't pander directly to my refined sensibilites as an arrested 13-year-old. But besides all the impressively staged melees — no surprise, coming from a company founded by certified stage-combat specialists — the show packed a lot of laughs and some genuine surprises. As scripted by Kyle Encinas, the piece morphed from a familiar James Bond parody into a smarter, more Tom Stoppard-inspired sendup of the Hero's Journey. After killing off its titular character just a few minutes into the show.
So what do you do for a follow up?
Fight more, says Chris Niebling, who founded the company last year with Encinas and Amie Root.
"This show has almost twice as many moments of violence, as we like to call them. Or fights, as they're known in the more general vernacular. We're at 22 or 23 distinct fights" in a 70-minute performance.
That's a lot of cans of whupass. One opened every 190 seconds. Approximately.
Won't we get bored?
"We looked for people who had real-world grounding in many different styles of martial arts," to round out the 11-member cast, Niebling says. "Animal Kung Fu. Jiu-jitsu. Krav Maga. Keysi Fighting Method. It gives us the opportunity offer a great amount of variety in what could otherwise be a somewhat repetitious idea: It's a martial arts tournament. There's a lot of unarmed fighting."
Simulated fighting, of course. "We have people who are extremely good at actually hurting one another, who can take the visual image and the emotional impact of that and make it safe enough that we can do it six times. In addition to countless rehearsals."
Once again, Encinas has contributed the script, which riffs on the cliches of films like Jean-Claude Van Damme's Bloodsport the way John Blade riffed on Bond.
"Kyle has a very specific voice, and he loves to play with the tropes of existing genres," says Niebling, dressed in a menacing, sleeveless black-and-yellow gi like the ones worn by the students of the evil Cobra Kai Dojo in The Karate Kid. His costume from the show, surely?
He's not in the show. He's just the producer.
As Master Yoda never said, if you've got it, flaunt it.
The Tournament opens at the Atlas Performing Arts Center this evening at 6 p.m. Tickets and a complete schedule of performances are available here.
Hear the Live Action Theatre episode of The Fringe & Purgecast here.
Photo: Robb Hunter and Craig Lawrence face off in The Continuing Adventures of John Blade, Superspy, Live Action Theatre's Capital Fringe debut, from 2013.