Women warriors, such as the perhaps-mythical ancient Amazons, for instance, and warrior queens like Boadicca, Zenobia and Joan of Arc, have always been celebrated in legends and history. There has been a resurgence of such warriors in recent decades with female soldiers going into combat on the ground and in the air. With female boxers, it has been a different story. There are reports of women boxers as far back as the Eighteenth Century. The Olympic Games of 1904 had a demonstration of female boxing and a female boxing club was started up in England in the 1920s. In more contemporary times, women’s boxing has exploded. But there has also been a continual undercurrent of objection to the very idea, that somehow it “ain’t fittin’” for a woman to engage in such activities with its bloody damage to body and brain. But women are no strangers to blood and injury, having shed plenty in the natural courses of life and war.
The Wholehearted, written and co-directed by Deborah Stein and performed and co-directed by Suli Holum, takes a hard look at the sport through the fictional character of Dee Crosby, inspired by the true story of champion boxer, Christy Martin, the first woman boxer to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Produced in the Kirk Douglas Theatre, the venue is modified and reduced in size and shape to a square with audience on four sides of a platform exactly like a boxing ring, but without the ropes. Ms. Holum prowls the space as Dee Crosby, a champion boxer with over forty victories. At this point in her life, her career is over, due to a vicious, life-threatening assault by Charlie Flaxon, her much older trainer-husband.
Dee tells her story from her early days as a teenaged boxer in Bakersfield, where Charlie shows up in her gym. He dominates her rudely and physically, and then coaxes her to come with him, luring her with a siren song that promises that he can turn her into a great boxer with all the wealth and fame that goes with it. Even though Dee has fallen head over heels in love with her first sweetheart, she leaves her love behind without notice, captured by Charlie’s rough enchantment.
A selfie videotape Dee makes, live and onstage, details her life, revealing an abiding affection for the girl she left behind. On the tape, she announces her intentions of returning to Bakersfield with the idea of renewing the old romance. This video project is shared with the audience on four screens on the lighting array above the ring. The action is also augmented by images provided by the extremely discrete onstage cameraman, Stivo Arnoczy. In the approximately sixty-five minutes of utterly absorbing theatre, Ms. Holum expresses a catalog of human emotions that had me unconsciously leaning forward in my seat so as to catch all the nuances of this passionate performance. She even sings, and sings well, in a throaty rockabilly style that is about as good as it gets.
The talents of Amy Rubin (scenic design), Stephen Arnold (lighting design), Angela Harner (costume and makeup design), Matt Hubbs and James Sugg (sound design), and original music by Sugg and Heather Christian support this remarkable production.
The Wholehearted is a winner. Get down to the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, and see this performance piece while you can. Its short run ends on December 11.