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The Wholehearted at La Jolla Playhouse

Today’s story packaged for superficial entertainment and exploitation

Suli Holum as Dee
Suli Holum as Dee

Christy Martin wore pink as a boxer and posing for the cover of Sports Illustrated. When her husband and trainer for 20 years thought she was having an affair, he stabbed her three times in the side, then fired a nine-millimeter Glock at her heart. One of her last thoughts, after she shouted “You can’t kill me!”: she knew it was her gun; it was pink.

The Wholehearted

Martin recovered. In 2013 she testified on Capitol Hill to support the “Protesting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act.”

Deborah Stein based her solo piece, The Wholehearted, on Martin’s story, with differences. Christy is now Dee Flaxon, “pound for pound the best female boxer on Earth,” as her 48-7-1 record attests (she brags she’s better than Laila Ali, daughter of “the Greatest”). She’s making a comeback after Charlie, her abusive husband of 20 years, committed violence that even the “sweet science” couldn’t defend. ESPN tells her story as does an interview with a smiley, shallow morning-show host.

Christy’s fired up. She’s in training — and in hiding from Charlie. He’s free from prison today for time served and will be back at their Tampa home. Along with vowing go get even, Dee composes a video letter to Carmen, the love of her life. It’s a confession, laced with the hope that Carmen can forgive her for running off with a man 26 years older.

But will Carmen still be at her Bakersfield home after 20 years, still waiting for Dee? Or is the confession some sort of compensatory fantasy all in Dee’s head?

One of the most fascinating aspects of Wholehearted: private and public use of media. At the Potiker Theatre, a mini JumboTron above a ropeless boxing ring screens videos of Dee’s fights, Dee’s interviews, and her public life. But it’s just today’s story packaged for superficial entertainment and exploitation.

Dee speaks into a handheld camera, which shows up on a TV monitor (visible to only half the audience), and a live cameraman all in black follows her around (and even shadow-boxes with her at one point). This is her confession to Carmen, dripping with emotion, heartache, and hope. The contrast between the public and the personal is striking.

As are the country and western songs sung by various voices, including Charlie, but his “Elvis Presley in flip-flops” vocal cartoons him way too much.

Although there’s a sag in the middle, the 65-minute, deliberately hectic piece runs at a “Breaking News” clip. The quick nonlinear jumps are a strength — media overload distorts and conceals as much as it reveals — and a weakness, since they gloss over key information, as if the audience already knew the story.

Wholehearted has the feel of a work-in-progress, but an important one and definitely worth seeing for its myriad means of communication, and for Suli Holum’s boldly honest, quintuple-skilled performance as Dee, a once fearless woman who faced the horror of evil and found the inner resources to fight back, in her own way.

Playing through December 18

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Suli Holum as Dee
Suli Holum as Dee

Christy Martin wore pink as a boxer and posing for the cover of Sports Illustrated. When her husband and trainer for 20 years thought she was having an affair, he stabbed her three times in the side, then fired a nine-millimeter Glock at her heart. One of her last thoughts, after she shouted “You can’t kill me!”: she knew it was her gun; it was pink.

The Wholehearted

Martin recovered. In 2013 she testified on Capitol Hill to support the “Protesting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act.”

Deborah Stein based her solo piece, The Wholehearted, on Martin’s story, with differences. Christy is now Dee Flaxon, “pound for pound the best female boxer on Earth,” as her 48-7-1 record attests (she brags she’s better than Laila Ali, daughter of “the Greatest”). She’s making a comeback after Charlie, her abusive husband of 20 years, committed violence that even the “sweet science” couldn’t defend. ESPN tells her story as does an interview with a smiley, shallow morning-show host.

Christy’s fired up. She’s in training — and in hiding from Charlie. He’s free from prison today for time served and will be back at their Tampa home. Along with vowing go get even, Dee composes a video letter to Carmen, the love of her life. It’s a confession, laced with the hope that Carmen can forgive her for running off with a man 26 years older.

But will Carmen still be at her Bakersfield home after 20 years, still waiting for Dee? Or is the confession some sort of compensatory fantasy all in Dee’s head?

One of the most fascinating aspects of Wholehearted: private and public use of media. At the Potiker Theatre, a mini JumboTron above a ropeless boxing ring screens videos of Dee’s fights, Dee’s interviews, and her public life. But it’s just today’s story packaged for superficial entertainment and exploitation.

Dee speaks into a handheld camera, which shows up on a TV monitor (visible to only half the audience), and a live cameraman all in black follows her around (and even shadow-boxes with her at one point). This is her confession to Carmen, dripping with emotion, heartache, and hope. The contrast between the public and the personal is striking.

As are the country and western songs sung by various voices, including Charlie, but his “Elvis Presley in flip-flops” vocal cartoons him way too much.

Although there’s a sag in the middle, the 65-minute, deliberately hectic piece runs at a “Breaking News” clip. The quick nonlinear jumps are a strength — media overload distorts and conceals as much as it reveals — and a weakness, since they gloss over key information, as if the audience already knew the story.

Wholehearted has the feel of a work-in-progress, but an important one and definitely worth seeing for its myriad means of communication, and for Suli Holum’s boldly honest, quintuple-skilled performance as Dee, a once fearless woman who faced the horror of evil and found the inner resources to fight back, in her own way.

Playing through December 18

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