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Review: ‘Flying V Fights: The Secret History of the Unknown World’ at Flying V Theatre

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It was a day for the un-stuffy. I wanted to engage with something new and ambitious. I hoped to be left agog. Well, Flying V Fights: The Secret History of the Unknown is an overwhelming success in my eyes. It is a whizzbang affair. I left the Writer’s Center happily chuckling in contentment and joy.

The cast of Flying V Fights. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

With a slew of talented local designers brought together from several vibrant, newish DC area theater troupes and an ensemble of ten eager to please cast members clearly ready to do anything; Flying V Fights: The Secret History of the Unknown World is lively and fun.

So what the heck is Flying V Fights: The Secret History of the Unknown World all about?

Over a quickly moving two acts with 18 separate vignettes, Flying V Fights is chock-full of recognizable heroes and villains along with dozens of discernible cultural references from the past 150 years. They are all mashed-up together into a bubbling sugar high of high-jinx.

The concoction that is Flying V Fights jumps from the fertile minds and clever, not campy writing of Matthew Bassett (Hub Theatre) and Jason Schlafstein. These two know their pop culture and how to draw out interesting arch-type characters. The words on a page are then winningly brought to life by the wizardly “take-no-prisoners” direction of co-directors Schlafstein and Jonathan Ezra Rubin.

Casting is a key to the success of Flying V Fight. Schlafstein and Rubin found a vigorous group including Danny Cackley, Christina Bay, James Finley, Timotheus German, Jon Jon Johnson, Michelle Polera, Megan Reichelt, and Emily Whitworth. At the performance I attended, due to an injury, Jason Tamorini was replaced on stage by Noah Schaefer and Ryan Tumulty. Over the course of the production each of these ten has a number of roles.

The various vignettes that comprise Flying V Fights cross through quite a vast geography; Europe, America, the depths of the seas and into the heavens. The vignettes are connected by stylishly enlivening original music composed by Pointless Theatre’s Michael Winch and Navid Azeez. The musical numbers give an aural foundation to the production; creating initial moods for each scene. Sometimes there is punched-up energy for combat, sometimes eerie, chilling, dark mystery, and other times a fun house circus sound. The music is well tuned to the time periods of each of the vignettes that the production travels through.

Each of the 18 detailed, exuberant movement oriented vignettes has a key central fight or critical combat choreographed by Jonathan Ezra Rubin and Mallory Shear. The stage fights are animated, tongue-in-cheek stylizations. The myriad characters, whether female or male, each has the opportunity to give as good as they get. One’s gender doesn’t matter for who ultimately wins in a particular scene.

The cast of Flying V Fights. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Now for just a few specifics. Anything too detailed would be a joy-killer. In what is a preface-like scene, Sherlock Holmes and Jack The Ripper meet up in early 1890’s London. From this first interaction, unexpected connections are made with a a Dr. Who like quality. There are hidden links, time and space travel through the decades as characters appear out of nowhere to make their impact. There are fragmentary meet-ups with fanciful folk and other-worldly creatures à la H.G. Wells or Orson Welles. There are clearly literary inventions à la Nancy Drew and Bram Stoker. There are radio era super-heroes that are reminders of Zorro and smooth television sleuths and movie adventurers with cutely changed names. And a key recurring character based upon a real life man; Nicola Tesla.

The Flying V actors are masterful denizens of a wide-range of performance arts. Without missing a beat of their lines or losing their blocking targets, they can launch themselves into spinning or kicking or crawling routines. Their stage combat work is in such tight quarters that they risk their bodies. There are no soft landing places at the Writer’s Center that I saw. Beyond combat, the actors performed lifts, tumbles, even some burlesque, along with sword play, puppeteering and, of course plenty of regular acting. Just know that nuance isn’t the point of the production in most scenes.

Now, major applause is due to the technical designers starting with the scenic design. It is full of trap doors, an on-stage acrobat apparatus, movable pieces, and multiple play areas developed by Jos. B. Musuneci, Jr. The scenic design is completed with props by Andrea ‘Dre’ Moore who is also the puppet designer. Costume designer Sydney Moore has winningly created many time-specific costumes that seem capable of withstanding so much action by the actors wearing them. There is visually arresting lighting design by Kristin A. Thompson that is teamed with a splendid, time and location-specific projection design by Paul Deziel with sparkling special effects and well-accomplished laser design work by Andrew Berry.

Flying V Fights is a successfully ambitious, playful 3-ring circus. It is full of hoots and razzle-dazzle. The production should resonate with those who want to see where theater may be headed in attitude and outlook when Millennials are truly in charge, or those familiar with Genre Fiction whether from the past or right now, or those with an appetite for well-accomplished graphic novels. One’s age has little or nothing to do with enjoying Flying V Fights: The Secret History of the Unknown World. It’s the attitude walking into the performance that matters. It’s for those who just wanna have fun. So be awesome. Take it in.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

 Flying V Fight’s The Secret History of the Unknown World plays through July 2, 2017, at Flying V Theatre performing at The Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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