The cast of LCAP: Wrist in Peace.
Photo-Baby Horse Theatre
Louisville Championship Arm Wrestling: Wrist in Peace
Developed by Baby Horse Theatre
Review by Eli Keel
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Eli Keel. All rights reserved.
(Full disclosure:I am a volunteer for The Slant Culture Theatre Festival, serving as a member of their Auxilliary Programing committee, but I have no connection to Baby Horse Theatre.)
For the second year in a row, Baby Horse Theatre Group is bringing their challenging and engaging work to the Slant Culture Theatre Festival.
Perhaps more than any other company at Slant, Baby Horse accepts the implicit challenge of a theatre festival. They push hard against easy, outdated definitions of what makes a play. They frequently stray blithely into the land of performance art.
This year Baby Horse is offering Slant audiences Louisville Championship Arm Wrestling: Wrist in Peace. The conceit is that Louisville has a professional arm wrestling league. Imagine all the scenery chewing and spectacle of the WWE (or Louisville’s own Ohio Valley Wrestling) except the action centers around arm wrestling.
This clever device allows Baby Horse’s group of talented actors and creators to skip the years of physical training it would take to become wrestlers, and move directly to the flamboyant theatrics and ridiculous back stories.
The antics feature six wrestlers, one manager, one ref, one M.C., and a man-pet named Fifi. The action follows exactly as an evening of wrestling would. The ref and the announcer take the stage, introduce themselves, and then keep the action moving along. There are five matches, each with a special gimmick to make it more interesting. There are all the beats one would expect; dirty tricks and cowardice from the heels, stand up behavior from the faces, and (SPOILER ALERT) one perfectly timed heel turn.
Everyone turns in a wonderful performance, but Geno Grigiot and Lacey Truck are given the most time to strut and the most material to work with. Grigiot has a particularly great speech wherein he insults the audience and Louisville extensively.
It isn’t theatre per se; at least not any more than the professional wrestling that inspires it. It has characters, heroes and anti heroes, action, and conflict. However, it lacks theme, serious character development, or any real attempts to build scenes or relationships.
That didn’t matter to Thursday night’s crowd. We booed the heels, and cheered the faces, just like we would at any wrestling event. Baby Horse takes every opportunity to engage the audience, often yelling back and forth with particularly brave or abusive audience members. Baby Horse even had hand made signs waiting in many of the seats. By virtue of sitting down I found myself in the hard-core Lacey Truck fan section. The sign I held aloft through one whole match begged “Lacey: Marry Me!”
If there is a possible weakness to this production, it’s that it depends as much on the energy of the audience as the energy onstage. Thursdays crowd didn’t need to be encouraged; we came ready to yell and misbehave. It’s hard to imagine a crowd not getting into the spirit, but this show would not survive a polite audience.
I strongly doubt it will be an issue. Personally, I’m an active wrestling fan, attending many of the local wrestling events around the region. But I imagine there is a second layer of genius here. Well-mannered theatregoers will suddenly remember what fun they used to have when they were kids, thrilling along to the adventures of Hulk Hogan or Stone Cold Steve Austin. They will remember, and start acting crazy. If Baby Horse manages to whip every audience at Slant into the same frenzy into which they drove the opening night crowd, this will be THE SHOW people are talking about and fighting (or arm wrestling) to get into.
For extra fun (before or after you see the action) check out Baby Horse’s Facebook page, which has hilarious publicity shots and bios for all the arm wrestlers.
It’s worth noting that it seems there is nothing at all ironic going on here. This isn’t snide hipster commentary on how wrestling could be performed by anyone, or a condemnation of the antics. It is an unabashed love letter from the performers who constructed the show together.
However, after the fun is over and the audience members have calmed down the total excitement of the audience gives us plenty of food for thought. Will any other audience at Slant be as engaged?
All over the country, arts companies of every stripe from the ballets, to symphonies, to the last few Shakespeares in parks search for ways to draw in new audiences, but every week wrestling shows all over the country play to packed crowds.
Wrist in Peace seems to ask Louisville’e theatre community why we should let those fans have all the fun, and ponders the purpose of allowing things like plot, theme, and manners to keep our audiences at a distance.
Louisville Championship Arm Wrestling: Wrist in Peace
Baby Horse Theatre Group
Part of The Slant Culture Theatre Festival
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Thursday, November 13 – 7:30 pm
Saturday, November 15 – 11 pm
Friday, November 21 – 11 pm
[box_light]Eli Keel is a Louisville based playwright, poet, story teller, and freelance journalist. He has been published in Word Hotel, his plays have been produced by Theatre  and Finnigan Productions, and he was invited to read his work at the 2014 Writer’s Block. He is a frequent contributor to Insider Louisville, where he has been given the (informal) title of “Chief of the Bureau of Quirk.”[/box_light]