The head of professional wrestling promoters NXT, Paul Levesque, is famous for his idea that in wrestling, there are three layers of storytelling: The action in the ring, the story of the performers in their personal life and the complex mire of the interaction of the two. That third Layer, the in between one, is one of the fundamental reasons that wrestling as a medium works – and a key reason why I’m OKayfabe works. It reminds you that in theatre, as in wrestling, there are people behind the characters, people with emotions and feelings more important than the broad stereotypes they perform.
In theatre, as in wrestling, there are people behind the characters.
The show is about female stereotypes literally wrestling with one another though, through the lens of lead performers Joey and Janina. Trashy drunk girl vs Power Mom, Scout vs “Slut” and Meryl Streep vs an actual man, all fought out live and in front of us. That last one is a little tenuous, but to be honest, the most impressive part of the show is the wrestling itself. I came in expecting a few basic things at best, but when Summer Holy Daze locked in an Octopus Stretch, I can’t help but say I was whooping along with the rest of the crowd. The loud audience also replicates the feel of a live wrestling show, and, even if they were smaller on my night, making the venue feel as full as the Staples Center.
Its flaws live in that same wrestling landscape though. Wrestling is a highly self-referential medium, and a lot of my enjoyment came from that – using slightly changed move names from current WWE stars, doing flair falls, etc. The problem is that this comedy is extremely narrow, if you don’t know who Ric Flair is, much of that is lost on you. The second problem is that the show doesn’t engage enough with what its core message is – that idea that female stereotypes are always harmful and that women should not have to cater to them. It has moments – like when a tweet comes out about a character that is so offensive that it makes the actor pause and consider, or when the commentary shifts from supporting a greasy man (dubbed the hero) to supporting Meryl Streep, that you can see that third layer of storytelling, where the real and the fictional crash into each other. But there is no confrontation of what those moments mean. They’re left to hang, not unlike they often are in proper wrestkling shows.
Don’t get me wrong through, this show is objectively extremely entertaining. You’ve got drama, comedy, surprising levels of technical aptitude, and a powerful social message. I’m OKayfabe is 85% of the way to being excellent. It just needs a little kick along the way.