FIGHTING WORDS by Sunil Kuruvilla, directed by Rosemary Dunsmore, with Linda Goranson, Irene Poole and Jody Stevens. Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst). Runs to December 9, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday 4 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $20-$28, Sunday pwyc-$20. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNN
the men may be gone from the Welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil. But the women who remain can't talk about anything but their men in Sunil Kuruvilla's evocative Fighting Words. It's 1980, and the guys have gone to Los Angeles to follow the rising star of bantamweight boxer Johnny Owen, hoping he'll win the world championship. Sisters Nia (Irene Poole) and Peg (Jody Stevens), equally entranced with Johnny though in different ways, spar continually for his attention. The unhappily married Nia, who wants to be a BBC broadcaster, helped make him presentable to the public; Peg is his secret training partner and hopes for a deeper relationship. Their confidante is their neighbour Mrs. Davies (Linda Goranson), who's got a wandering husband.
Moving back and forth in time and repeating key moments, Kuruvilla's play is full of striking imagery and emotional nuance. Rosemary Dunsmore's direction captures these qualities beautifully on Glenn Davidson's set, where a series of strung ropes double as boxing ring and clothesline. Poole throbs with unspoken feeling as the needy Nia, while Goranson's maternal Mrs. Davies simmers with a hidden anger that finally boils over.
If only Stevens's work were more focused. She never fully conjures up the passionate Peg, not even in the script's climactic speech.
The strength of the piece is in its details rather than the overall structure. There's talk about going up against impossible odds, about fighting to keep a dream alive, but these wispy themes affect us less than Nia's determination to alter her life, Mrs. Davies's motherly, sometimes stinging advice and the characters' blend of humour and pain, shaped with subtlety and conviction.theatre reviews