‘Love is a Battlefield’ at Flying V

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Pat Benatar never could have seen this coming.

That her signature hit from yesteryear, “Love is a Battlefield” would be utilized so forcefully and literally in Flying V Theatre’s wonderful devised piece of the same name could never have been imagined by the 80’s pop diva. And yet I’ve never seen one of Ms. Benatar’s songs put to better use. With their imaginative, sexy, and very funny original play, Flying V has further established itself as one of DC’s most exciting new theatre companies.

Robert Bowen Smith and Natalie Cutcher. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.
Robert Bowen Smith and Natalie Cutcher. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Flying V Fights: Love is a Battlefield is not a single narrative, but rather a collection of about a dozen vignettes, all non verbal, that feature some combination of love and violence. Indeed, sex is never far from death in this show, and the line that separates dance and fight choreography is often blurred. Director and Fight Director Jonathan Ezra Rubin, assisted by Jamie Doughty and Scott S. Turner, skillfully present a stunning range of fight choreography that is infused with grace and feeling. The result is a fast-moving and highly entertaining show that is physical in every sense of the word.

The ensemble consists of the multi-talented Theresa Buechler, Danny Cackley, Natalie Cutcher, Rebecca Hausman, Jon Jon Johnson, and Robert Bowen Smith. Each plays multiple roles and dies in multiple ways from a variety of causes. Oh, sure, you have your standard guns, knives, and axes. But rapiers, tridents, whips? A bowling ball? There is even a good old fashioned boys vs. girls pillow fight. The violence in the show, particularly during the extra-jam-packed first vignette (“Fighters Mega Mix”) has an aura of Saturday morning cartoons. And although there were no ACME safes in Flying V’s production, there was a certain amount of irony and even whimsy to the knockout death matches. This was complemented by a soundtrack bubbling with pop hits and a lighting design (courtesy of Kristin A. Thompson) that included two laser lights, a strobe, and ample fog. All of this spectacle fit right in with the gloriously garish Love is a Battlefield. And yes, they do use the song, and it’s delicious.

Just as I was settling in to a performance I assumed would be full of splash but bereft of any deeper emotions, Flying V pulled a fast one on me and made me feel feelings. Because apart from the Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote dynamic, there are genuinely heavy subjects explored here. We see relationships bloom and bust, we see people torn apart by loss, sometimes literally. In the “Oh My Heart” vignette, Robert Bowen Smith thrashes about the stage in a self destructive display of heartbreak. Disturbing and compelling, Smith makes very literal the all-too-familiar sensation of giving your heart away to the person who once loved you.

It is to Jonathan Ezra Rubin’s credit that he can present the world’s most talked about subject, love, in a new light. Sometimes the abstract is made very literal, like when a fighting couple put on WWE masks and rile the crowd to their side like Hulk Hogan. Or, like during the beautiful vignette “Toxicity,” the physicality of the actors transcends literal meaning and begins to speak for itself in a language that couldn’t possibly be verbalized. It is during these moments that Love is a Battlefield shines brightest.

Given the many settings within the show, Set Designer Andrea “Dre” Moore was very successful in crafting a design that suited the needs of the actors/combatants, and was visually compelling of and by itself. Made up of sharp angles, paper screens and multiple platforms vaguely reminiscent of an urban landscape, the set also provided opportunities for backlighting and shadow play. Rounding out the show’s sharp design team was Sound Designer Neil McFadden, who, aside from the aforementioned pop tunes, utilized instrumental music and the actor’s own statements about sex and relationships to create an evocative and omnipresent soundscape.

Knife-happy Jon Jon Johnson. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.
Rebecca Hausman and Jon Jon Johnson. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Flying V Fights: Love is a Battlefield is an endlessly entertaining assault on the senses, visually arresting, and, surprisingly, deeply moving. It is clear that everyone involved is trained, talented, and passionate about their work. But before you get into a relationship with any of them, please remember your bullet proof vest.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Flying V Fights: Love is a Battlefield ends its run today-Sunday, June 29th at 2:00 PM at The Writer’s Center-4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, Maryland. Purchase tickets online.

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Jon Jon Johnson on ‘Flying V Fights: Love is a Battlefield’-Which Plays Through This Sunday at Writer’s Center.