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Review: Flying V Theatre's THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE UNKNOWN WORLD a Fantastical Evening of Stage Combat

For actors who know their way around a rapier and dagger, one of the joys of studying stage combat is the final "fight night," when scene partners cook up scenarios that enable them to show off their skills in swordsmanship and fisticuffs. You know which moves you're about to see, it's the bizarre scenarios you and your mates cook up that make the fights so incredibly entertaining.

I mention this, dear reader, because Flying V has become the premiere forum for stage fights in the DC area, and the creativity in their "Flying V Fights" series has never been more awesome or delightful. This year's entry, "The Secret History of the Unknown World," sees co-directors (and co-founders) Jason Schlafstein and Jonathan Ezra Rubin presiding over an evening of mayhem devoted to the bizarre, alternative worlds that have obsessed us on page and on film over 100 years.

In the course of two and a half hours Flying V takes you on a whirlwind tour, from the Chicago World's Fair to the present, stopping off to visit with just about every fantastical meme we've produced and then flipping them into even stranger scenarios; can Nancy Drew defeat a satanic cult with her perky optimism? Can a classic strip-tease become gruesome beyond belief? Can a Chicago cop, out for his Friday night shift, deal with all the aliens and para-normals on his beat?

Everybody from Sherlock Holmes, Cthulu and Nicola Tesla (who, contrary to rumor, was a real and incredibly strange guy), Dr. Who, Frankenstein's bride and Nancy Drew meet onstage, in a glorious mashup of the stuff that gave us nightmares when we were kids. Think of all your favorite characters from "Tales of the Weird", "Twilight Zone", the realms of horror and sci-fi and beyond, brought together for the ultimate smack-down. Imagine it's done with a healthy sense of humor, too.

I mean come on, people, do I need to paint the picture for you? You miss this one, you've really missed something crucial. And because of the breadth of the show's historical scope, it's OK if you miss some of the cultural references. Some of us will get the 30's horror flicks, others will glom onto the "Twilight" refs later on. One minute, the guy next to you doubles over in laughter, the next minute you're grinning ear to ear while he looks clueless. It's all part of the game.

With an ensemble this talented it's totally unfair to single out some actors at the expense of others; to write them all up like they deserve, however, would take the next month so here goes: Emily Whitworth has not only mastered the art of the burlesque show but she has some serious chops when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, James Finley cuts a fine figure as the superhero Premier (look for the huge red "P" on his broad chest, can't miss it) and as the befuddled Chicago cop. Danny Cackley provides the suave Nicola Tesla along with the Bond-like Remington Moore, while Michelle Polera has the spunk and charm necessary for Nancy Drew, but also cracks a mean whip as, erm, "Colorado" Jones (who hooks up with Remington; long story).

The production team roster for this production, like the cast, is intimidatingly large and as usual it's totally unfair to single out only a few, but here goes: Jos. B. Musumeci Jr.'s set is an intricately-constructed ensemble of movable parts, complete with window mullions that double as a jungle-gym when the occasion demands. Sydney Moore has a field day with the costume design, as colorful and varietal as American (and British) fantasy demands. A special shout-out to composers Navid Azeez and Michael Winch (of Pointless Theatre) who have created an amazing original score of 60 pieces, which the ensemble uses to guide their many, many fights. Kristin A. Thompson's lighting design is more complex than ever, with Andrew Berry providing special effects and dazzling laser designs. The overall visual effect is enhanced grandly by Paul Deziel's projections, which play out discreetly above the action in trapezoidal frames; Deziel's work is entertainment enough, and it's a reminder that projection techniques are rapidly becoming indispensable for any company that wants to be a contender.

So here we are again, folks; it's summer, school's out, and your high school grads and returning undergrads are settling into their usual gaming. Haul them out of the couch, set them down in their seats at the Writer's Center theatre in Bethesda, and show them what it means to see something truly live.

Production Photo: Emily Whitworth and James Finley. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission.

Flying V Fights: the Secret History of the Unknown World runs June 8-July 2; performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Performances take place at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.

Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets online at, or at the door starting one hour before the performance

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From This Author - Andrew White