For Global Students : Self-defense and lessons in selfhood. Welcome to The World Students Society and a Theater Review!

IF an attacker grabs you by the wrist, dip your elbow, turn your hands palm-up twist and use leverage against the person's thumb to extract yourself. If the attacker is North Gym Room 2 straddling you, buck your hips, grab an arm and flip the person over.

Though North Gym Room 2 - with its drab walls and paltry set of yoga mats, aerobic steppers and stability balls - doesn't look like much, at least the self defense moves being taught there are legit.

Because in Liliana Padilla's ''How to Defend Yourself'' [ winner of the 2019 Yale Drama Series Prize ] at New York Theater Workshop, name of the undergrads in the class really know what to do. They are still reeling from a peer's beating and rape by two frat guys.

The play, directed by Padilla, Rachel Chavkin and Steph Paul, opens a few minutes before the first session of DIY self-defense class presented by Brandi [Talia Ryder] and Kara [ Sarah Marie Rodriguez ], sorority sisters of the victim, who has been hospitalized since the attack.

Diana [ Gabriela Ortega ] and Mojdeh [ Ariana Mahallati ] arrive first. Diana, who is loud, tough and gun obsessed, hopes to unleash her inner Tyler Durden in a real-world fight club; her friend Mojdeh is more concerned with how they'll get into Brandi and Kara's sorority.

And there's also Mojdeh's coming date with James Preston, an Adonis of the college's senior class.

Nikki [Amaya Braganza], formerly known as Nicollette, creeps in late, shyly sliding her body into the room, Brandi, a practitioner of various martial arts, leads the group, including Kara, and, later, two well-meaning frat boys, Andy [Sebastian Delascasas] and Eggo [Jayson Lee], who also participate in the consent in the consent exercise and counter drills.

The shots and blocks traded in the class are always martial but not always physical; rifts within the group are exposed during disagreements about how and when to safely express one's sexuality.

'' How to Defend Yourself '' rushed through a random patchwork ending that allows the production to show off some fancy stagecraft but doesn't provide a satisfying narrative conclusion. 

Before the first class begins, Diana, in the midst of hyperbolic ramblings, says they're in a ''fiction of safety.'' She could be talking about the United States, or the town they live in, or the college campus, or even North Gym Room 2, where they shadowbox hypothetical rapists and kidnappers.

Either way, I've felt that '' fiction of safety '' too -  sometimes when I elbowed and kneed mats on taekwondo, when I've aimed punches at my reflection in the boxing gym - that, despite my having a black belt and solid stable of jabs and crosses, there are still limits to the autonomy I have over my own body. 

So is safety really just a fiction?

And if so, how do you defend against a lie?

With special and loving dedication to the Female Global Founder Framers of !WOW!, and all the girls in the world. The World Students Society thanks author : Theater Review, Maya Phillips.


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