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Fist of Roses 

Plumbing the ambiguity of violence -- but never its psychology

Wednesday, Nov 10 2004
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Philip Kan Gotanda's new play is the latest and most abstract entry in the race for good "documentary theater," à la The Laramie Project. The playwright interviewed people in women's shelters, jails, and "violence re-education" programs to study why some men bash around the women they love, and his answer comes in the form of music, song, beat box rhythms, and dance more than argument or testimony. Five actors mix brief stories of domestic violence with routines choreographed by Erika Chong Schuch. A clumsy, ironic dance to "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" by the Crystals is a highlight, in part because watching five burly, not exactly dance-trained men clap and twirl is like watching a bunch of football players try to be artistic. The best moments of the show plumb the ambiguity of violence -- that edge where affection turns to hate -- but never its psychology; the stories are too brief and fractured to bring about much insight. Tommy Shepherd, Danny Wolohan, Michael Cheng, Rajiv Shah, and Donald E. Lacy Jr. all act well, and Shepherd's intricate beat boxing lends a strong, compelling rhythm. But ultimately Fist of Roses is just a musical montage, an "aural history" that fails to give its own hard stories enough weight.

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