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Fight Night: A fun and lively satiric exercise in democracy

Fight Night, created by the collective Ontroerend Goed, is an interactive experience that riffs on modern democracy.

Mirvish Productions

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Fight Night
Written by
Alexander Devriendt, Angelo Tijssens and the cast
Actors
Aaron Gordon, Abdel Daoudi, Aurélie Lannoy, Charlotte de Bruyne, Michai Geyzen
Company
Ontroerend Goed
Venue
Panasonic Theatre
City
Toronto
Year
2016
Runs Until
Sunday, November 20, 2016

Fight Night, the curious theatrical thingamajig that opened at the Panasonic Theatre on Friday, is a lively satiric exercise in democracy. Good thing, because the practice – democracy, not satire – is getting soft. And weird.

When the Belgian collective Ontroerend Goed created Fight Night it had no idea a boorish charlatan and inept politician such as Donald Trump would hoodwink his way into a tough, close fight for the U.S. presidency against a competent but strikingly charmless candidate such as Hillary Clinton.

Or maybe Ontroerend Goed had something like the interminable Trump-Clinton vote-off exactly in mind.

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Either way, the inquisitive theatregoers attending the interactive Fight Night are each given a small voting device before finding their seats. Before the contest begins, the hand-held gadgets are used to tabulate the crowd's demographic make-up. When we find out the audience is made up of 51.4-per-cent women and 48.6-per-cent men, the host/moderator (the bald, bespectacled and bow-tied Angelo Tijssens) offers a purposely smarmy "Hello ladies."

And when it's found out that 16 people in the crowd of 273 were hesitating at keying in their age, the dapper Tijssens tells them that anyone unsure about how old they are should just go ahead and push the button for 60 years old and above.

Fight Night, the first presentation in Mirvish Productions' 2016-17 Off-Mirvish series, is fun.

The show itself – and it is nothing if not a show – begins with five "candidates" on a dark stage in hooded boxing robes. A light shines on Tijssens, who grabs a microphone dangling from above, which is how they do it at the prize fights.

The bell rings, and the candidates (Aaron Gordon, Abdel Daoudi, Aurélie Lannoy, Charlotte de Bruyne and Michai Geyzen) are revealed. Right off the bat, the audience is asked to pick their "favourite." Criteria? None given – just whom you like the best.

Candidate Daoudi, who is dark and bearded enough to arouse an airport security guard's attention, gains the least amount of votes. Well that's interesting, isn't it?

Speaking to the audience, candidate Daoudi owns his "loser" label. "Please like me more," he says. "Pity me. I will be your underdog."

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Funny thing about our underdog: He ends up forming a coalition with the guy who received the most votes. Because of that alliance and one other, the candidate with the second-least amount of votes ends being voted off the stage.

So what happened there? The audience took the time – one minute, to be exact – to cast a vote based purely on intuition and superficial assessment, and yet their least favourite competitor is still in contention to be the majority's representative. That doesn't seem right, but all is fair when it comes to politics and battles royal.

Things get interesting when the field is narrowed to three candidates. Platforms on issues aren't presented. It's all about their notions on the voting itself. One, an idealist, seeks unanimity. The second wants to blow up the system. A third just wants our votes to count. And the fourth … wait, where did the fourth runner come from? Weren't we down to three?

Fight Night is fluid, dynamic and playful.

At one point, the audience is asked to assess themselves: Are you a little racist, a little sexist, a little violent or none of the above? A full 40 per cent votes for the goody-two-shoes fourth option.

"Oh, Toronto," Tijssens says, tisk-tisking with a smile.

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A lie is a truth that one needs, and no one is more self-deceiving than America's blathering candidate Trump, a man who looks into only dishonest mirrors.

At Panasonic Theatre, a revolt against the system happened late, but the crowd members who gave up their vote were in the distinct minority. Eventually, one candidate was left standing. Given multiple choices, the majority had ruled.

So, the electorate had spoken, but what had Fight Night said? Probably that voters are susceptible to charm and manipulation, and that the game is real. Fight Night audience members use keypad devices. Likewise, an electorate holds futures in its hands.

Fight Night continues to Nov. 20 (mirvish.com).

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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