Mother-daughter duo Brigette and Nancy Estola and Manistee native actress Kathleen Dillon star in this weekend’s production of “Fighting Words,” written by Sunil Kuruvilla, at AM Galleries.
The three-woman play runs just three days, Friday and Saturday, July 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 20 at 3 p.m. Tickets for the show are $10 per person and available prior to the show at AM Galleries or at the door, although seating is limited due to the venue of the production.
“This is a play I absolutely love,” Brigette said about the production, although she mentioned the play is not well-known in the acting world.
The storyline is based on a real 1980 boxing fight between Johnny Owen and Lupe Pintor in Los Angeles. Brigette said the story is about three women in Wales — Peg and Nia (sisters) and landlady Mrs. Davies. The story is told in Wales before and after Johnny’s boxing match, and focuses on each of the women’s connections to Johnny.
“The characters have a lot of depth and energy,” Brigette said.
Brigette said the character she plays, Peg, is connected to Johnny because she also wants to be a boxer; Peg’s sister Nia, played by Dillon, is a housewife who wants to be a radio personality; and their landlady Mrs. Davies, played by Nancy, is a midwife and delivered Johnny, so she has known him since he was a baby.
The storyline of the play is this: “In 1980, boxer Johnny Owen traveled from the small mining town of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, to Los Angeles to challenge Lupe Pintor for the world bantamweight championship. Forty men from the town accompanied Owen to watch the fight at ringside. Fighting Words focuses on sisters Peg and Nia, and their landlady Mrs. Davies. It is the story of the women who watched the fight on television back in Wales.”
“The three women are all so comfortable together,” Brigette said.
“So comfortable, they just say everything, good and bad,” Dillon said.
Brigette said “Fighting Words” is a very approachable play because of the content. “It’s not something you have to dig real deep into. Everything is in the text of the play,” she said, although it is a “pretty tragic story.”
Brigette said the show is 90 minutes long with no intermission and digs right into the story.
“It thrusts the audience into the whirlwind of the weekend,” Brigette said.
“The author is a black man who tells the story of three Welsh women so well,” Dillon said. “It’s remarkable that he knows what’s going on in the heads of these women.”
Brigette said, “It captures the spirit and energy of the story.”
“Fighting Words” is a production Brigette became familiar with in college and one her mom, Nancy, came to watch with her.
“It’s not well-known for some reason,” Brigette said. “The first time I saw it I was mesmerized. The next time I saw it, I noticed things I didn’t before and the next time, other things. The show is just in layers.”
Brigette said boxing is a good artistic metaphor.
“It’s the only play my mom came to see that I wasn’t in,” Brigette said.
Since the mother-daughter duo saw the production, Brigette said they have been talking about doing the play, because Nancy wanted to play the character of Mrs. Davies.
“We talked about maybe making it happen this summer and we made it happen,” Brigette said.
She said after they decided to do the production, they got the rights to the play, talked to the gallery and local people involved in theater and pulled it all together in the three weeks Brigette is in town from New York.
“I think it’s the kind of play that anyone would enjoy. And it is age-appropriate for anyone,” Brigette said.
Nancy said being able to do the play “means a lot” to her because it might be the one and only time they share the stage with each other.
“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Nancy said.
“I am used to the fast-paced speed of rehearsal,” Brigette said. “It’s an intense process. I admire both of them for jumping into it.”
Play rehearsals have taken place every afternoon before Dillon goes to work and the cast had only about three weeks. She said traveling to Chicago to try and find apartments has been challenging, but the opportunity to work with Nancy and Brigette is something she really appreciates.
Brigette said the amount of help from people locally has helped her pull it all together.
About the actors
Brigette is a Ludington High School graduate who went on to Carthage College and currently lives in New York as an actor.
Kathleen Dillon is a Manistee High School graduate and went to Chicago for her bachelor’s degree. She has been working in the schools and is leaving for Chicago again about two weeks after the production ends, for graduate school.
Nancy is also moving the day after the show to California. She has long history in the local theater scene, having made many costumes over the years.