The tragic tale of a young boxer and his impact on the women in his life takes center stage at Heartland Theater. Welsh boxer Johnny Owen died shortly after his attempt win the WBC World Bantamweight title in 1980. The story inspired playwright Sunil Kuruvilla to tell the tale through the prism of three women from a mining town in Wales.
"Fighting Words" focuses on two sisters and their landlady who have been left behind as the men of the town where mining and boxing reign have followed Johnny Owen to L.A. to see the bout. The play opens at Heartland Theater in Normal on Thursday, Sept. 8 and runs through the 24th. Don Shandrow is directing, and Jessie Swiech plays one of the sisters, Peg Parrott.
"Peg wants to be a boxer," Swiech said. "And this is at a time when that dream, as a woman, is not likely to be realized. For it not being that long ago, it's an entirely different world, a different dynamic. Johnny Owen is one of the few people who actually encourages her in her pursuit of boxing."
Don Shadrow explained that the audience gets to know the characters through boxing, and specifically Johnny Owen. "Each of them have some kind of a relationship with him. The woman battle over who possesses Johnny. Early on in rehearsals, we talked about women as the creators of mythology. And I think that each one of the characters has a vested interest in the myth of Johnny Owen"
"While boxing is a big part of the story, it's a vehicle to display the relationships between the characters," Swiech explained. "Boxing acts as a bond with the women." Swiech trained in boxing at the Bloomington Combat Club to ready herself for her role.