Sarah Fulton Group production Fighting Words.

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES - a near-perfect fusion of direction and performance... a power-house cast...

BACKSTAGE WEST - "...Kuruvilla's script plays out in physical and emotional wallops..."

LA WEEKLY - " evening when one can forget the current travails of modern life"

Welsh Drama "'Fighting Words' Packs a Wallop"

BACKSTAGE WEST - "Director Tim Byron Owen displays a fine ability to traverse tricky setups helps that he has a trio of strong performers to work with, all of whom offer powerful performances..."







Review by F. Kathleen Foley

"Recommended" Sunil Kuruvilla's "Fighting Words" is an odd amalgam of Pinter-esque restraint and Odets-ian histrionics. However, in its current staging at the Celtic Arts Center, the play is a near-perfect fusion of direction and performance. Director Tim Byron Owen smoothes over any tonal irregularities in Kuruvilla's challenging but occasionally digressive drama, while a power-house cast ferrets out the hidden subtexts with remarkable sensitivity and perception. Based on the true story of Johnny Owen, a Welsh bantamweight champion killed in an infamous 1980 bout with Mexican boxer Lupe Pintor, the play opens on an appropriately cryptic note - a tension-filled interchange between two women in a small-town gym. It is only later, when the scene is replicated and expounded upon, that we realize the meaning of their deceptively absurdist dialogue. Out of context, that opening may strike some as unnecessarily obtuse, especially considering the otherwise chronological arc of the plot. Despite moments of unnecessary inaccessibility, however, the play builds in inexorable power and coherence. "Words" revolves around three women who have been left behind in their tiny Welsh village of Merthyr Tydfil while the town's menfolk are away in Los Angeles for the fateful match. The discontented Nia (Bernadette Sullivan) wants to escape her thankless marriage and become a BBC announcer. Nia's unmarried sister Peg (Margaret M. Loucks), an avid amateur boxer, has high hopes of marrying Owen when he returns in glory. Meanwhile, their relentlessly cheerful landlady, Mrs. Davies (Laura Gardner), finds that her grasp on happiness is becoming ever more precarious. Uniformly mesmerizing, the actors give performances that are works of art. Sullivan is a simmering Modigliani about to burst off the canvas, while Gardner is Munch caught between a smile and a scream. Loucks is a mobile made out of tensile wire, fixed in place but spinning with compressed energy.


Sunil Kuruvilla's play about a trio of women waiting for their men to return home from a boxing match is a full-throated ode to workaday female toughness and aspiration, traits that go largely unsung in the hardscrabble Welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil. It's 1980, and local boy and boxing phenom Johnny "Matchstick Man" Owen goes off to America - Los Angeles, no less - to fight a Mexican challenger for the world bantamweight title. Many of the men go off with him as an entourage with hopes of witnessing boxing history, while three women who stay behind are left to luxuriate in the freedom from apron strings and to consider the holes in their lives that are magnified by the men's absence. Nia (Bernadette Sullivan), a restless, relative newlywed, covets a career as a BBC broadcaster; her younger sister Peg (Margaret M. Loucks), a grown-up tomboy who shadow-boxes to pass the time, dreams of marrying Johnny; and midwife Mrs. Davies (Laura Gardner), a town fixture who alternately empathizes with Nia's wish for a greater life and encourages her to find it at home. Director Tim Byron Owen gets wonderful performances from his three actors; though at points they're as emotionally clipped and as fiercely economical with words as we imagine their men to be, their relationship flowers over mixing bowls and stacks of laundry with a tender, but never teary, inevitability. Gardner is especially good, with her mobile mouth and wide-eyed look that is both winning and desperate. Sound designer Reid Woodbury Jr. and lighting designer Peter Strauss get the place and mood just right - bare-bones but lush.

Showbiz Currents
by Jerry Craig

In 1985 I celebrated at the opening of the Celtic Arts Center on Hollywood Boulevard, then again as they christened their new location on Laurel Canyon in 2000. Their commitment to excellence has never wavered as is exhibited by their presentation of the Sarah Fulton Group's west coast premiere of Fighting Words by Sunil Kuruvilla. In 1980, Welsh boxing phenomenon Johnny Owen came to Los Angeles to fight for the Bantamweight World Championship. His story is told by an exceptional trio of actresses, Bernadette Sullivan, Margaret M. Loucks, and Laura Gardner, who individually and collectively illuminate the play. They remind us what great theatre is all about. Director Tim Byron Owen never permits a lost moment or a wasted beat in his seamless production. Canadian playwright Kuruvilla, who flew into town for the performance I attended, agreed. Must close Oct. 3.

Your Low-Tek News

Based on a true story, Welsh boxing legend Johnny "Matchstick Man" Owen is off to the fight of his life in Los Angeles, and most of the men in town have gone with him. The women back in Merthyr Tydfil are baking bread before gathering around the broadcast tonight. Being alone - or perhaps Johnny himself - inspires these women to voice their desires, and in some cases to act on them. All three actors give riveting performances, and while the storyline doesn't always engage, wonderful moments abound. After the show, exit stage right to the bar to see the original poster from Johnny's last fight.

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