By Keri Tombazian

The Wholehearted marks the second production featuring the set of a boxing ring in the Center Theatre Group season this year.  Unlike the metaphorical ring in the Mark Taper Forum production of A View From The Bridge in which familial battles were fought, in The Wholehearted, flyweight boxer Dee Crosby (Suli Holum) steps into a literal boxing ring to spar with the ravages of her past.  So authentic is her story of violence, betrayal, abusive love, and revenge, I had to Google Dee Crosby to see if she is a real person.

The little jewel of the Center Theatre Group in Culver City, the Kirk Douglas boasts long credits of developing new works, pushing boundaries of convention, and (as is the case with The Wholehearted) distinguishing Los Angeles as a home for world premieres of experimental shows.  On the hit-and-miss road of experimental theatre, CTG has produced a hit.

In their first play, Chimera (New York Times’ Critics Pick), Co-directors Deborah Stein and Suli Holum resolved the artistic struggle of maintaining the integrity of live theatre while integrating technology-based media.  They have come out of that journey as emerging experts in marrying the “now” of technology with the transcendence of live theatre.  Played upon large screens suspended above The Wholehearted boxing ring, archival footage, flashback action, and real time projections are as normal to the setting as Juliet’s balcony is to fair Verona.  Stivo Arnoczy is a remarkable presence in his wordless work as the on stage cameraman.

Amy Rubin’s scenic design, Stephen Arnold’s lighting design, Matt Hubbs and James Sugg’s sound design, and costume and makeup design by Angela Harner, all work magic to create a rich world in which Suli Holum plays out the madness of beaten-down boxer Dee Crosby.  Holum is simply fantastic, boxing with reality and fantasy while belting out a few surprising songs in good voice and fearless nakedness.  Big props to James Sugg and Heather Christian for writing hit songs that seem ripped from the radio.

Playwright Stein does not bring the gavel down on whether Crosby is a ruthless opportunist who abandons her true love for money and fame, or the victim of a ruthless but irresistible trainer/husband who takes advantage of her raw talent.  Holum deftly moves between creepy and endearing showing Crosby to be both victim and perpetrator.

Don’t miss The Wholehearted.  But hurry!  It is a short run through December 11, 2016.  Get tickets here.

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