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Look sharp: Catch an edgy play about teen fencers

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She’s getting right to the point.

A Crown Heights playwright will launch her new coming-of-age story about swashbuckling teenage girls at a Clinton Hill theater next week. “Athena,” opening at Jack on Feb. 15, follows two rival fencers as they forge a friendship while competing for an Olympic slot. Playwright Gracie Gardner was inspired by her childhood experience with the sport and its isolating nature, she said.

“I was a fencer in high school, and it’s a pretty distinctive sport because it’s just you and no team — it’s just you up against other people,” said Gardner.

Those other people are your competition, but they also help you become a better fencer. And repeatedly drawing steel on the same opponent can create an unusual bond, she said.

“Spending a lot time with someone, while also being at odds with them is a very unique part of that sport,” said Gardner.

The play follows 17-year-old Athena, a fencer who competes against fellow teen Mary Wallace. When Athena realizes that they make stellar opponents, she insists on dueling the other girl more often. A guarded friendship develops, but at a certain point, the two know that they must fight for a spot at the Olympics.

“She realizes that she matches well with Mary and asks her to start training with her to get better,” said Gardner. “It’s really about their relationship and learning how they negotiate this situation where they’ll be head-to-head.”

The 80-minute play will feature plenty of flashy swordplay. The two actresses worked with a fencing coach and choreographer to perfect their lunges, attacks, and ripostes — something rarely seen in plays set in the modern day, said Gardner.

“I’m excited about the sword-fighting — it’s kind of died out unless it’s being done in old theatrical plays, so I’m excited to see contemporary teens doing this sport,” she said.

Gardner said she wanted to tell a story about real girls with real concerns, as a way to foil stories that often portrays teenage girls as vapid airheads. She hopes that the play will help audiences to empathize with their plight and struggles.

“It makes me sad when I see teen girls portrayed as frivolous and people who don’t matter. I wanted to show these young women as funny, resilient, and smart,” she said. “I hope people can walk away with that and remember that they were a teen not long ago, and see how these girls were forced into adulthood beyond their control.”

“Athena” at Jack Theater [505 Waverly Ave. between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue in Clinton Hill, www.jackny.org]. Feb. 15–March 2, Wed–Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 2 pm. $25 ($18 for those under 30).

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.
Posted 12:00 am, February 12, 2018
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