By Lauren Quinlan
Victory Gardens has been actively making an effort to attract younger audience members to its theatre. Sucker Punch is a prime example of that. While the play’s central world of boxing is a powerful grab for many young people who love sports culture, I was not personally invigorated by the theme. This made me feel slightly isolated from the play, but not to the point where it significantly contributed to my disappointed, uninspired feeling leaving the theatre. The lack of a dominant idea, and flighty storytelling that cast a blind eye to the current political climate, did.
The play starts out well enough: Leon, fulfilling the attractive “lone fighter” type, is trying to better himself and his circumstances through boxing. His character provides an easy “in” into the story for the audience because his underdog status is a story many can relate to, or at least root for. But are the people who can most directly relate to Leon’s story (namely those with limited disposable income) able to gain access to this story? If many of them cannot see the play, then is the play really for them? It is so crucial that stories like Sucker Punch are told to audiences that reflect them because of the renewed power of agency such stories can give to audiences. To see Leon create a better life for himself could inspire a downtrodden person to do the same, and help to create a more enterprising society. Victory Gardens’ choice to produce promising work, then diminish the story by highlighting “diversity” without honestly discussing any issues black people face serves to alienate the young people they covet, despite initiatives like College Night.
To show sports on stage is not enough to captivate today’s young people – they also demand substance and an honest discourse that doesn’t let complicated issues resolve neatly. They demand that the carnage they see in everyday life be represented truthfully on stage. Leon’s underdog story is tempting but does not reach any end. But the problem is not that it fails to reach a conclusive ending – the problem is the production does not assert who owns the story. Is the play Leon’s story? Or Becky’s? Troy’s? Is it about racism? Feminism? The world of boxing?
Perhaps the most significant focus was on the racial tension happening in 1980’s London, where Sucker Punchtakes place. Even then, the few moments where it is addressed come and go without much changed or stakes challenged. This is especially disappointing due to the many connections that could be made between the “casual racism” happening in England then and the very real and ongoing police brutality issue, and the rise of #BlackLivesMatter, in the here and now. This, I think, was more of a script problem than a directorial problem. Still, that does not make it unavoidable.
1980’s London was also steeped in “Thatcherism” – the time in which Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power – and has been depicted in all kinds of entertainment media, like the movie The Iron Lady. Victory Gardens’ production does not delve into that world as much as I would have liked, as the time period is rich with fraught history and could reveal much about the time period we live in now.