by Ben Ellentuck
Two Irish boxers. (Not dogs.) One (stylized) fight. Blood, sweat and tears. (But mostly sweat. Also, no tears.) A fiancée, Marguerite, rooting for Joe, the young underdog, and a deceitful manager, Larry the Lid, rooting for the champ “Tornado” Tom. In the middle, your host, the referee and trainer. Thus goes the basic setup of Fancy Footwork, by Irish author, playwright and screenwriter Miriam Gallagher, now rounding out its run in the Fringe Festival.
The play is short—40 minutes short—but just long enough for one to get thoroughly fed up with the ridiculous Irish accents, ranging from entertainingly-bad to just-plain-bad. It’s hard, even with an open mind, to imagine why the play (which was first performed in 1983 at the Dublin Theatre Festival), is being done at FringeNYC more than 25 years after its world premiere. And with a non-Irish cast. Putting on accents.
The answer may lie in the ceremonial allure of the piece. The fighters’ chant, “King of the Ring! King of the Ring!” attains a ritual, almost cultish status by the end of the play. The chalk used to mark the boundaries of the boxing ring is an instrument of some sacred rite. We are unfortunately unable to immerse ourselves in the mystery of this rite as we are whisked away by the melodrama of Joe and Marguerite’s relationship, as well as that of “Tornado” Tom and Larry the Lid, but the mystery remains—as does the allure. There are some interesting and potentially very rewarding directions to dive into here. This production, however, does little more than dip its toes in the water.
While I wouldn’t describe the experience of seeing Fancy Footwork as particularly fun or enjoyable, it isn’t particularly terrible, either. After all, some of that allure of mystery does manage to eke its way out into the audience. It certainly isn’t a torturous experience—provided you can stand sweat. A lot of sweat.