Theater Alliance and Flying V Theatre are fighting the good fight — both staging unusual and highly satisfying productions in which physical combat is a central theme.
The more substantial of the two offerings is Theater Alliance’s “Still Life With Rocket,” a gripping portrait of a damaged family coming to terms with past mistakes.
Conceived and directed by Mollye Maxner (of Theater Alliance’s 2015 “Occupied Territories”), the play conjures an uneasy meeting of the adult children of Etta Fisk (Annie Houston), a former boxer now in the grips of dementia. Reunited for the first time in years, Nathan (Justin Weaks), Tracy (Teresa Spencer), Cyrus (Jared Shamberger) and Caleb (Ben Gunderson) feel just enough nostalgia to slip back into their old game of Truth or Dare.
But long-festering secrets and resentments give the pastime a treacherous edge.
Profiting from the full layout of the Anacostia Playhouse, including its hallways and loading dock, “Still Life” uses immersive installations to plunge audiences into its fictional world. At the show’s start, theatergoers walk through the rooms of the Fisk home — most strikingly, the squalid living room and kitchen, where dirty pots pile high in a sink and old shoes and papers litter the floor. (Andrew Cohen is the scenic designer.) The family members seem lost in thought.
When you arrive in the cavernous space where you can sit for the main performance, two figures (Devinne Cook and Kate McFalls) are practicing dance-like boxing maneuvers. This arresting tableau — possibly evoking one of Etta’s memories — is just one aspect of the show’s semi-stylized movement directed by Kelly Maxner and Mollye Maxner.
Other memorable bits of physicality include a sequence in which actors frenetically shove furniture across the floor, an expressionistic nod to the Fisks’ restless discontent.
The movement and installations enhance this distinctive story’s unnerving drama. But “Still Life” also gets terrific mileage from its cast, especially Gunderson and his masterful depiction of the belligerent Caleb.
The boxing motif in “Still Life” adds psychological depth and poetic resonance. By contrast, Flying V’s high-spirited production exploits fighting for its sheer entertainment value. The third in a series of combat-focused shows, “The Secret History of the Unknown World” fires off vignettes inspired by genre fiction from the late 1800s (think Sherlock Holmes) to modern times (think “Twilight”).
Directed by Jason Schlafstein and Jonathan Ezra Rubin, this slightly overlong production displays a delightfully goofy sense of humor.
An irresistible scene plops a cheerful Nancy Drew (Michelle Polera) into a morass of H.P. Lovecraft-esque eeriness. (Nancy comes out on top!) Other highlights include a Jules Verne-style battle between a submarine and deep-sea monsters and a hilarious showdown between three Lone Ranger epigones (Timotheus German, Jon Jon Johnson and Danny Cackley) and a criminal circus.
The fights (choreographed by Rubin) never look terribly real but are impressively brisk and fluid. The props and puppets (designed by Andrea “Dre” Moore) and aptly pulpy music (composed by Navid Azeez and Michael Winch) help the show deliver its knockout punch.
Still Life With Rocket, conceived and directed by Mollye Maxner. Assistant director, Matthew Alan Ward; sound design and original music, Matthew M. Nielson; lighting, William K. D’Eugenio; costumes, Kelsey Hunt; projections and multimedia, Kelly Colburn; properties, Patti Kalil. About two hours. Tickets: $30-$40. Through July 2 at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl. SE. 202-241-2539. theateralliance.com.
Flying V Fights: The Secret History of the Unknown World, directed by Jason Schlafstein and Jonathan Ezra Rubin; written by Schlafstein and Matthew Bassett; assistant fight director, Mallory Shear; scenic design, Jos. B. Musumeci Jr.; special effects and lasers, Andrew Berry; projections, Paul Deziel; sound, Neil McFadden; costumes, Sydney Moore; lighting, Kristin A. Thompson. About 2½ hours. Tickets: $20-$40. Through July 2 at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. flyingvtheatre.com.