note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi
Nia Jones … Jennifer Burke
Mrs. Davies … Jennifer Barton Jones
Peg Parret … Julie Pummer
Sunil Thomas Kuruvilla’s FIGHTING WORDS, which had a brief run at the BCA courtesy of the QE2 Players, is a hats-off to Welsh boxer Johnny Owen (1956-80) (aka “The Matchstick Man” because of his slight frame), who held the Welsh, British, Commonwealth and European titles and went to Los Angeles for a crack at a world championship only to die from sustained head injuries in the ring. Mr. Owen’s rise and fall is indirectly told through three women from his home town, Merthyr Tydfil: two boxing widows, Nia Jones and Mrs. Davies, and Nia’s feisty sister Peg Parret, who is Johnny’s training partner and who plans to marry him. The men of Merthyr Tydfil have gone off en masse to Los Angeles --- Peg, among them --- leaving their womenfolk to prepare a victorious homecoming celebration (the play begins soon after news of Johnny lapsing into a coma has been reported, takes a few steps into the past, then returns to continue in the present). As they wait, Nia and Mrs. Davies talk about Johnny, bake Bara brith (Welsh tea cakes) and slowly reveal themselves --- Nia dreams of leaving both home and husband to become a radio announcer for the BBC; Mrs. Davies is the Eternal Mum who goes no further than her kitchen door and fusses and frets over Mr. Davies’ absence. At play’s end, Nia has been granted her wish and Mrs. Davies is mothering Peg who has lapsed into a deep depression over Johnny’s death. Mr. Kuruvilla has written a cozy little comedy-drama, as cozy as Mrs. Davies’ kitchen must be on a cold winter’s night, though Peg’s over-ripened monologue of her Being There (i.e, Los Angeles) cuts across the low-key dialogue that is the play’s real strength, and I silently groaned whenever the women channeled their men’s personalities to the audience --- it’s time for playwrights to stop being their own accountants and to allow more actors onto a stage instead of only a handful doing turns.
The QE2 production was lumpy --- having its actresses change their own scenes didn’t help matters --- once its trio settled in, I enjoyed their company (Julie Pummer’s tall, gawky Peg, however, would not last long in the ring). This was my first encounter with the QE2 Players who produce British, Irish and Australian plays about older women and I look forward to future evenings with them --- had I an onion handy, I would drip tears onto these scribbles for luck just as Mrs. Davies does with her cake batter.