“Gonna Get Messy”: Action Spectacle Over Story

By Grayson Lazarus

In well-written narratives, action comes as an explosion of emotion between characters with reasons to combat. Depending on the genre, action is, pardon the easy comparison, icing on a cake. Instead of flour, sugar and eggs, the cake is made of an entertaining story and engaging characters. Presented by the SUNY Purchase Stage Combat Club, “Gonna Get Messy” is a fight showcase that adapts six famous fight scenes from a variety of media forms. The show is like eating just icing, but miraculously not getting a terrible stomach ache.

The show functions as a demonstration of the physical abilities of the performers and as a realization of fight scenes in a theatrical setting. Some of the adapted works are more unique because as a result. Bringing an animated film like “Mulan” to life is special, while adapting “Hamlet”, a work that has been adapted for hundreds of year, is less so. On the whole, the fights are well chosen, primarily because of their diversity. Each fight boasts a different style of combat: “Hamlet’s” swordplay, “Robin Hood’s “staff fighting, and “The Walking Dead’s” wrestling. The audience is always being presented with something stylistically different, which is nice when watching something that is technically impressive and deliberately lacks substance.

By pulling these action scenes out of the second and third acts of these adapted stories, there is rarely any room for investment. If any random audience member is not previously familiar with the films, television shows, and plays, a fair assumption could be made about how much they will care about what they are seeing beyond the choreography. Some context is given in each of these scenes. Right before the fight in the “Mulan” section begins, the villain Shan Yu almost kills what can only be assumed to be Mulan’s friend. This much context is barely enough to establish the conflict of a fight in a 90-minute Disney film. For “Hamlet”, a production with a duration of nearly four hours, the motivations of all six are woefully unclear. This is why the realization of Little John vs. Robin Hood is the most successful of the six battles. From the dialogue right before the confrontation, the audience understands the following: Robin Hood wants to cross a path, Little John does not want this, and a fight ensues because of this. The basic motivation is easy to get wrapped up in and the spectacle is at its most effective here with a very well-executed bow staff confrontation.

These issues with structure do not comment on the quality of the performances. Each one boasts some impressive choreography, while proving the talent of each member of the Stage Combat Club. It appears that the goal of the show was achieved: show the audience what we can do. That goal is not small feat, but it is fair to claim that it would have been more challenging if the goal was to show the audience what we can do and make them invested in what we are doing.