Since Saturday, I’ve been watching nonstop clips of wrestling’s best moments. As I learned from Netflix’s beautiful but short-lived GLOW, the plotlines are intricate, the athleticism par none, and the premise of wrestling itself gives us a lot to discuss, if we’re open to it. That’s why it was so delightful and refreshing to witness all of this, for the very first time, in person, with Flying V’s fall show, Bowties and Blackeyes.
Bowties and Blackeyes is, exactly like it sounds, a live wrestling show up in Silver Spring. It is very much on brand with Flying V’s focus on independent, pop culture–driven art, aiming to bring different mediums of performance and storytelling to the area. During the two-hour show, audience members were treated to a set of seven different wrestling matches made up of a mix of singles and doubles. Each match took no longer than about 15 minutes, just enough time to allow you to question what the outcome would be before declaring the winner.
The action plays out on a ring set proscenium-style in front of the audience in a black box theater. At first, the stark and vaguely intimidating wrestling ring feels ever so slightly out of place in the intimate venue, where it stands tall even compared with the raked seating. In person, it is larger than life, at least four feet off the ground, and contrasts starkly with the simple versatility of the black box. It also sets a high bar for energy, which seemed difficult to mirror as the show began. Though the announcer was very charming, he had a bit of a slow start as he introduced referees and the first bout, and it was not until the first two wrestlers actually started fighting that the energy really picked up.
But once the ring came to life, it was impossible to look away. Each wrestler was magnetic in their own way, with all having at least one moment that made my jaw drop. I was so impressed with the moves they executed, not just for the physical strength and showmanship, but also for the attention to detail that each one displayed. We had seats very close to the ring, and almost all of the throws, strikes, and aerials were so precise that they did not look staged. Robb Radke and Filipinot Grigio, the night’s first match, were particular standouts. Though their entrances took a moment to land, once they began wrestling, the room was filled with the energy they brought to the table. They executed some extremely impressive moves, with Radke’s backflip from the corner ropes becoming one of the highlights of the night. Wrestler Damaris Dawkins was also impressive. Though she did not win her match, she won the crowd over immediately, all while doing some mind-bending maneuvers to turn the tables on her talented opponent, Saul Esparza. She had some great moments when she had him in a hold, and even better when she would use a kick to get the better of him.
For the most part, the technical elements of the show were straightforward, spotlighting all that was happening in the ring. Lighting remained mostly the same, focused on illuminating the happenings in the ring rather than describing the conflict of the match. Sound cues were present only when necessary, primarily for elements like entrances, when the performers had the opportunity to peacock and show us a little bit more about their characters. There were times when the show could have benefitted from a few more creative technical touches. The announcer, for example, could have used some entrance music himself, and it would have been fun to see the lights perhaps take on a slight color hue for different matches. It likely would have helped drum up some energy and add a feeling of connectedness to the various pieces of the show. That being said, it’s extremely refreshing to see a show that relies solely on its premise to entertain and inspire, and Bowties and Blackeyes certainly delivered in that regard.
The one piece that remained absent, though, was the dramatic antics of a larger plot and characters that seem central in the clips I’ve now found myself watching. Though each wrestler was exceedingly capable, and there was one conflict between performers to hold onto, I wished the wrestlers had more time to flesh out their dynamics, to show us the stuff they are made of, their values, and what, if any, rivalry there was with their opponent. It would have made it much more fun to decide who to root for, adding to the great energy already present in the show. The theatrics of this kind of physical storytelling are infectious, so as this live wrestling initiative grows, I hope Flying V embraces the drama wholeheartedly.
Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
COVID Safety: Flying V’s COVID Protocols are here.
Robb Radke vs. Filipinot Grigio
Jet Jaghori & Hamish Stuart vs. Artist Gallery (BLANK< Blaxstrom)
Damaris Dawkins vs. Saul Esparza
Myles Millennium & Killian McMurphy vs. Air Show
Pancakes & Erica Leigh vs. Jordan Blade & Abby Jane
Eel O’Neal vs. Boar