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Fight Club: Fistfuls of testosterone


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Sixth rule of Fight Club isn't in the script. It was decreed on opening night of the current Citizens of the Universe production, tucked behind a corrugated row of cheapjack office suites off Central Avenue, in a grungy parking lot flanked by a loading dock and some railroad tracks. The sixth rule was spontaneously proclaimed last Thursday midway through Act 2, when the rains had already wrecked the lights and the sound system.

COTU founder and director James Cartee had replaced the kliegs and the spots at intermission with the headlamps of a car and an SUV. The show went on, and the rain resumed. Cartee emerged from his car and strode onto the makeshift stage in the middle of a scene where the schizo narrator, Jack, was about to experience a birthday celebration involving two cakes shaped like a woman's boobs.

The candles were not to be lit in their central locations. Instead, Cartee proclaimed the sixth rule:

"Gotta call it when the scenery starts blowing away."

Reasonable enough. Sue and I left under the cover of our umbrellas and, since we had the CP day-night doubleheader booked for Friday, returned for the July 4th edition of Fight Club. With pedestrians lined up on the sidewalks awaiting the fireworks at Memorial Stadium, it was a little more difficult to find the 1311 Central Ave. location -- and to avoid mowing down mothers and children as we entered the parking lot.

Stoppages were more benign at this performance. We timed our arrival to coincide with intermission, so we had missed the stoppage during Act 1 when a train had rumbled through. But we sure didn't miss the climax of the fireworks at Memorial, a cluster of cannonades so loud that Diego Francica, playing Jack, called the second timeout.

As aficionados of the Chuck Palahniuk novel and Brad Pitt movie are well aware, I've already broken Fight Club rules 1 and 2: "Don't talk about Fight Club!" Even a devout rule-breaker like me has trouble talking too much about COTU's asphalt jungle version with sound dropouts, decimated sub-guerilla production values, and a 47-1/2 hour intermission compounding the inherent difficulties of Dylan Yates's stage adaptation. Additional hurdles presented there include Palahniuk's circular plot; detours from the known frontiers of chemistry, sociology and psychology; and frequent zigzags backward and forward in time, with the occasional probability bypass.

Yet the whole testosterone spectacle rouses me to persist. So I'm talking. Jack holds down an actuarial job at a Big Three automaker. Tyler Durden, a maniac screen projectionist, coaxes Jack to live with him and launch his network of nationwide Fight Clubs. Marla is the woman who loves them.

We get hints at the beginning of Act 2 that Tyler actually dynamited Jack's condo before offering him shelter, but there are greater shocks and surprises to detain us as the story unfolds. Fight Club evolves into a cadre of human automatons who are a ghoulish mix of masochism and anarchist terrorism.

Comedy episodes seem to gravitate to Kaddie Sharpe, the only female in the ensemble. Early in Act 1, she's a surreal stewardess on a down-market airline whose pre-flight spiel includes a proscription against fucking in the restrooms. (Reminds me: COTU's Porta-Potty is on back-order.) Then she settles into her main role as Marla.

Act 2 hilarity peaks when Marla arrives at Tyler's pad with freezer baggies filled with her mommy's liposuctioned fat. Why is Marla saving this gelatinous gook, and why is Jack insisting so vehemently that she shouldn't open the fridge? Here I won't talk, except to hint that it all connects with Tyler's diabolical scheme to fund his underworld network and blow up more things -- resulting in Francica's finest moments as Jack in some gross-out physical comedy you won't soon forget.

Fight choreography and tech are executed with the same precision as the buffoonery. Stephen West-Rogers brings a martial arts fervor and simplicity to Tyler that stamps a seal of authenticity on the larger Fight Club scenes. He's as effective getting hit as doling out the punishment.

Four Space Monkeys fill out the cast, with Kenny Kline standing out in multiple roles as Angelface, the Fight Club newbie; Gloria, the support group bimbo; and the union boss who kicks the crap out of Tyler. The others -- Bret Kimbrough, Chris Freeman, and John Michael Coutsos -- are all suitably silly, clueless or fascist as needed.

Can the cast hold it perfectly together amid all the distractions, deluges, mishaps, and interruptions? Not always. After the fireworks subsided, Francica lost his lines briefly on Saturday night, and later on, Rogers made an awkwardly delayed entrance, probably because it was impossible for him to hear his unamplified cue line.

Stuff like that makes Fight Club even more fun to talk about. Even if it is against the rules.


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