Vertigo Theater Company presents ‘Bareknuckle’ at Gleason’s Gym

Theater troupe will perform boxing-themed plays inside Gleason’s Gym

Tag team: “Bareknuckle” producers Tara Ricasa, Pia Scala-Zankel, Alexandra Renzo, and Nicol Moeller are ready to rumble.
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These actors aren’t just looking to break a leg — they might bust a few lips, too.

A theater troupe will put on three short plays about boxing inside a real boxing gym from Feb. 20–March 8. The Vertigo Theater Company is staging the show as part of ongoing series of site-specific productions. The producers said they were looking for a location to host — and play muse to — their latest night of original theater when Gleason’s Gym in Dumbo hit them over the head.

“We wanted somewhere where we could be inspired, where stories were oozing out of the walls,” said producer Tara Ricasa. “It is one of those places that is singular — we were like kids in a candy store when we walked in.”

Opened in 1937, Gleason’s is the oldest active boxing gym in the country, but it has also held its share of cultural events over the years — including dance performances, art shows, and classical music concerts, owner Bruce Silverglade said.

The “Bareknuckle” show will feature plays that deal with gentrification (“Lights Out”), marital battles (“Clinch”), and fighting your inner demons (“The Sentinels”). The producers asked the three playwrights to draw on the historic training ground for inspiration, Ricasa said.

“We left the door wide open,” she said. “We said, ‘Here’s the deal, we’re doing this at a gym, so we encourage you to go to the gym, look at the photos, be inspired.’”

Gleason’s will hold an open house before Friday’s night opener, so people can meet boxers and take a swing at the heavy bag, Silverglade said.

“We want to get as many people into the gym as possible that aren’t normally in a boxing gym, so they’re realize boxing is a better sport than the myth out there,” he said.

A portion of the show’s proceeds will go to Silverglade’s charity Give a Kid a Dream, which provides mentors for disadvantaged youth in boxing, Ricasa said.

And to further enhance the full fisticuffs experience, world champion pugilists Keisher “Fire” McLeod-Wells and Alicia “Slick” Ashley will square off in an exhibition match before the plays, Ricasa said.

“That’s unscripted — that’s live right there in the ring,” she said.

More than a play, the production promises to be an experience for all sensory faculties, Ricasa said.

“It’s definitely going to engage every sense,” she said. “There are spackles of blood on the ring floor. The gym has a very distinct odor — and it depends on the day and who’s in there training.”

“Bareknuckle” at Gleason’s Gym (77 Front St. between Main and Washington streets in Dumbo, Show runs Feb. 20–22, 27, 28, and March 1 and 6–8. Fridays and Saturday shows at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm. $18.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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