Just Do Art: Special COIL Edition | chelseanow.com

Just Do Art: Special COIL Edition

L-R: Femi Olagoke and Dennis A. Allen II, in “Tyson vs. Ali.”  PHOTO BY JOHN HURLEY

L-R: Femi Olagoke and Dennis A. Allen II, in “Tyson vs. Ali.” PHOTO BY JOHN HURLEY


Like comic book fans geeking out to “what if” conflicts involving equally powerful superheroes, it doesn’t take much to get well-informed boxing fans into an argument about whose arm would be raised at the end of a fight between two greats of disparate eras. Eventually, they all fall down — but as made-in-heaven matchups go, it’s difficult to imagine a more dynamic pairing than “Iron” Mike Tyson and Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali.

Co-presented by PS122 and 3-Legged Dog, this sensory overload entry in the COIL contemporary performance festival takes the audience on a tight, well-conditioned, nine-round ride — during which the vastly different public personas and fighting styles of Tyson and Ali are examined alongside the emotional life and physical experiences of the aspiring boxers who play them. Dennis Allen, Femi Olagoke, Jon Swain (veteran of four pro boxing fights), Roger Casey and Dave Shelley alternate in the roles, each tasked with playing both legendary fighters at various points. Along the way, there are plenty of ringside shout-outs to the audience, forced separations from the ref and reconstructed moments from numerous Tyson and Ali bouts.

Jabbing, weaving, punching and pivoting their way around the ring while classic fight footage is played, the athlete/actors bring sweaty, aggressive life to the “greatest heavyweight boxing match that never happened.” Laura K. Nicoll’s kinetic choreography, combined with new media artist and theater director Reid Farrington’s use of large hanging screens and opaque scrims moved by the ref, provides the audience with more action to absorb than a comparatively static stand-alone boxing match. But the evening’s greatest impact comes (literally) from the live action: note-for-note recreations of devastating blows that are delivered with no sparring gear, and all of the wince-inducing, glove-to-flesh intensity you get from a real night at the fights.

Jan. 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 11, 17-19 and 22-25 at 7:30pm, Jan. 10, 16 at 10pm and Jan. 13 at 1pm. At 3LD Art & Technology Center (80 Greenwich St., at Rector St.). For tickets ($20, $15 for students/seniors), call 212-352-3101 or visit ps122.org. Also visit 3ldnyc.org. 

Wisdom of future past: Kirk does the mash, in “An Evening with William Shatner Asterisk.”

Wisdom of future past: Kirk does the mash, in “An Evening with William Shatner Asterisk.”

Preserved in 1960s TV amber — and speaking to you from a monitor that prowls the stage with the help of human assistance — it’s easy to believe young, fit, USS Enterprise Captain James T. Kirk when he asserts, “I know you want to know how to make art with science, and maybe even science with art. I will tell you. You are in good hands.” Never mind that everything coming out of his mouth was never actually uttered — at least not in this precise order or context.

Transmitting from a future stardate, the steely, authoritative Kirk has credibility to burn. Maybe that’s why Phil Soltanoff passed on lesser beings (Gandhi? The current Pope, maybe?) when he was looking for the perfect “dynamic video oracle.” Soltanoff, whose “An Evening with William Shatner Asterisk” makes its New York debut as part of PS122’s COIL contemporary performance festival, meticulously catalogued and remixed everything William Shatner ever said on the original “Star Trek” series.

Armed with that collective wisdom, he set out to “expand our universe on contemporary arts and science as only Captain Kirk can.” While one can appreciate the show’s desire to explore a strange, new world of “post-human theater” in which the “principle player is technological and acts in symbiosis with a human performer,” the preview clips we were given left us appreciative of the technical achievement, but skeptical about its application. Lost in the vocal mix was any sense of Shatner’s hammy charisma — largely responsible for the mass appeal, and longevity, of “classic Trek.” Instead, Kirk’s mashup pontifications are delivered with a distant, choppy, Stephen Hawking-like style reminiscent of the tone employed by the God-like overseers who toyed with the good captain and his crew on more than one occasion. It was difficult to tell if that’s a miscalculation, or a savvy employment of Soltanoff’s desire to “employ new technologies in surprising and human ways.” Either way, investing one night of your time — to potentially learn and grow from one of the greats — beats the commitment of signing up for a five-year mission.

Jan. 9, 10 at 9pm, Jan. 10 at 7pm, Jan. 11 at 3 & 7pm and Jan. 12 at 2pm. At the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher St., btw. between Greenwich & Washington Sts.). For tickets ($20, $15 for students, seniors), call 212-352-3101 or visit ps122.org.