I managed to catch the closing performance of “SCOWL: Fight for your Rights!” on a stormy July 21st at 7pm, at The Brick Theater in Brooklyn. I came into the performance having an idea of what I was going to see, but I was absolutely blown away by the spectacle that I actually witnessed.
SCOWL encourages audience participation, and not just in the usual “do this when we say that!” kind of way. We were all encouraged to shout out taunts and jeers at the performers, cheer for the faces, boo the heels, and chant along with a couple of smarks near the front row. The energy was absolutely infectious, and I felt like I was at a real wrestling match.
The story isn’t complicated, but it’s full of the delightful insanity of any wrestling storyline. Bad guy wants to do a thing, good girl wants something else, they wrestle for absurdly high stakes prizes. There was a hilarious undercurrent of camp which underscored the central theme: Sometimes you have to fight for your rights.
The story is laid out early and quickly: beat Pat Riarchy (Michael McGuire) and his stable of heels, best two of three. His wrestlers, Broseph Ballin’ (Gabriel Spector) and Lacy Rose (Gladys Hendricks) were just as over-the-top evil as you’d expect. I never expected “Poconos” to be such a sinister word, but after watching the evil Dr. Roz (Gabriel Spector) brainwash people for Pat Riarchy, every time I heard it, I honestly tensed up. Broseph Ballin’ himself was a hilarious take on the “tech bro” archetype. Lacy Rose was a lot of fun to boo, a brainwashed former ally.
The fights themselves were well put together, and entertaining. Fight Director Nathan Oesterle really nailed the ebb and flow of a wrestling match down to a T. Each wrestler had a good gimmick, the costumes were believable, and the stage presence was great. There were a bunch of “fans” which were the production staff giving encouraging cheers, and getting the crowd fired up. Each match was filled with punny quips, explosive action, and surprisingly accurate wrestling tropes. There were outside interferences, over-the-top disqualifications, and even a steel chair! (Everything’s better with a steel chair). All of the fights were presided over by the Referee/Announcer (Gaby Barrios). It felt every bit like I was watching an episode of WWE, the only thing missing was good ol’ J.R. screaming ‘Bah Gawd!’.
As a piece about trans rights, this was really impactful. The usual tone policing, patronizing, and dilution of trans issues to serve “business interests” are well illustrated in a way that was both funny and close to home at the same time. It was satisfying to watch April Rain (Ashley Lauren Rogers) lay the smack down on Pat Riarchy and make him eat his words about the trans, non-binary, and agender folks that worked for him.
The pop culture references that I saw were excellent. Both MxPunk (Jesse Krebs) a non-binary version of CM Punk, and Kyle Oren (Sylas Barret) a “Force to be reckoned with” were cheeky and funny. Kyle was forbidden to use his “powers”, and the evil Dr. Roz hypnotized him into using them, disqualifying him. In any other medium that might absurd, but it was perfect for a wrestling match.
The audience itself felt like an extra character. My favorite jeer of the night was at Pat Riarchy, a riled up fan telling him “You look like discount Matthew McConaughey!” Between that, and the usual shouts of “You still su-uck!” and “You sold o-ut!” I couldn’t help but join in. This was obviously a format and production that was near and dear to the hearts of everyone involved. A lot of love and care went into making this happen.
SCOWL was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time, and if it had any more showings, I’d tell you that you need to go see it. It was just over an hour, and that hour rushed by in the best possible sense. I was glued to my chair, and when it ended I couldn’t help but think, “When is the next SCOWL fight?!” I sincerely hope this show has another installment, and preferably a series of installments. Consider me a Rainiac, because I can’t wait to watch Ashley Lauren Rodgers bring the rain in the next installment of SCOWL.