Cup-A-Jo Productions, a Pittsburgh-based artist collaborative, returned to this year’s Fringe Festival with another challenging piece: Teeth & Sinew. At the beginning, we see two figures—a man with his back to the audience facing a large sheet of paper and a woman standing upstage. Then the pre-recorded score is played. There is the sound of a woman’s voice over a musical accompaniment. The voice begins telling the story of how she met and fell in love with her future husband. The woman on stage performs an interpretive dance in response to the voice narration as the man on stage dips his hands into bowls of paint and begins his own interpretation by painting on the sheet of paper.
The show is sectioned into three parts. The first part has a lightness about it as we listen to the story of early romance. The second part of the show featured a different dancer who used different movements as the story in the narration progressed. It is in this section there is foreshadowing of the narrator’s relationship taking an abusive turn. We hear the narrator speak of a breakup and subsequent return to her relationship—a kind of settling into being in the relationship with her partner.
The last section of the show again features a different dancer. I found it curious that the company decided to switch out dancers but not the man painting, obviously both parties in the story, the man and woman, change over the course of the narration but that wasn’t reflected in a cast change of the painter.
The story concludes with the narrator acknowledging the kind of cage of abuse she was living in with her partner and her coming to a tentative resolution after leaving the abuser. I found this part of the narration most moving because it didn’t offer an easy wrap up for the audience but instead acknowledged the kind of continuing journey of leaving abuse.
Kudos to composer Dan Glynn for creating the original score of the work. The show’s sound added emotional depth to a very basic visual set up.
I love watching one-person shows where the performer is also the writer. It is a pleasure to see someone interpret and perform his or her own work. This is why I love the Fringe so much. Randy Ross based the play The Chronic Single’s Handbook off of his just released novel of the same title.
In the beginning of the show we meet the narrator fresh off losing his job. He is romantically unattached (he neurotically presents his dating history to the audience via spreadsheet) and inspired to travel the world in search of culturally enriching experiences and trysts with attractive women. We are then treated to some increasingly harrowing hijinks. The narrator almost but not quite makes it with a Russian woman on a Greek Ferry. He then has a brief encounter with a Cambodian prostitute. Afterwards there is a vignette when the narrator acts out a BDSM scenario with a reluctant girlfriend. The play then returns to vignettes featuring another prostitute, this time in Cape Town.
Ross wraps up the play by taking the audience to the narrator’s more present circumstances. We watch the character struggle with finding that his new love is possibly not up to snuff and philosophize on what it even means to be attached to someone.
Ross is a great performer. He has great presence, and in particular his delivery of comedic lines is solid. I can also praise his writing to a certain extent. His show is well structured—he deftly moved between tense and scene without losing a logical thread. What The Chronic Single’s Handbook lacks is a sense of humanity. I am a not a critic who believes that characters have to be likeable in order for a show to have merit, but what I do believe is that a show suffers when it deals in one dimensional, misogynistic portrayals.
The narrator of The Chronic Single’s Handbook appears to be a man who just can’t believe that the women he encounters were not put on this planet to serve his needs and pleasures. This premise, while promising at the beginning of the work, fails to develop and so the play becomes a tedious diatribe. The women the narrator encounters appear to all be crazy and also incredibly beautiful. Some might even say the women populating this play are manic-pixie dream girls.
When watching a one-man show, it is easy to confuse the character being portrayed with the actor/writer performer behind the work. The ending line of the show is, “A girl has limits.” Yes, she does.