That’s a Wrap: Fringe Day 3

Day 3! The last day of my first Fringe Festival! And it was a beautiful one. Finally, I could happily live the dream of comfortably biking around town seeing plays. On Friday it was all dreary and rainy for my agenda of puppetry and chiptunes. Saturday was super cold as I caught hugs, colorful fabrics, and classy mid-Atlantic wit. But Sunday! Lovely sun and balmy air for… cancer, conversion therapy, and an examination of mental illlness. Get ready for a good time, everyone.

My second paragraph always opens with a beer at James Street, so let’s get that out of the way. Coffee stout instead of brown ale today! Having checked that box, I headed over to AIR for The Pink Hulk: One Woman’s Journey to Find the Superhero Within, written by and starring Valerie David, and directed by Padraic Lillis.unnamed (12)

The Pink Hulk is a one-woman show following David’s diagnosis with and treatment for breast cancer, opening with her celebration of fifteen years cancer-free after an earlier struggle with lymphoma. This show spans just about the whole range of human emotions, from a playful hookup in Aruba in the beginning to sadness and loneliness after the second diagnosis and a rollercoaster between defiance and despair as the treatment goes on. David offers inspiring moments when she chose to do things differently from her first battle with cancer, to place them on her terms instead of passively letting them happen – having a party to shave her head before the hair falls out; getting a better wig, then deciding she doesn’t need it. But each one is soon followed by doubt, reflecting the sadness of having struggled with the disease once only to have to do it all over again.

David’s performance is as intimate and boundary-free as a show of this nature needs, and in the lighter moments, she’s very funny – which helps the audience deal with the gravity of the material. The set doesn’t change throughout the performance, but changes to the lighting give a different tone to each scene.

Unfortunately, I had to skip the talkback afterward, as it was time to head over to the Allegheny Inn for Happy/Sad Collective’s The Principle, written by Alan Stevens. The Principle is a short, but dense, drama focusing on Thomas and Jess, a gay man and a trans man who have been forced into Conversion Camp, where the doctors force them to live as Tom and Jessica. The dark, dungeon-y basement of the inn is a perfect setting for the room the two have been placed in for their final test.unnamed (13)

The two characters, portrayed by Jim Hartley and Brittany Stahl, use the occasion of the test to finally talk about who they really are, away from the constant monitoring of the camp. They share their experiences, what made them happy in their former lives, and their feelings on what they’re going through in the program. The actors have clearly put a lot of work into these performances. Their tense movements and body language convey the emotions their characters have been struggling to keep bottled up for so long.

Despite its short runtime, Stevens’ writing draws you into the world of the show. A decision is made at the end that implies there could be more story to portray if he wanted to extend the show. But the heart of the play is the examination of these two characters, and the moment Stevens has chosen for this scene gives you all you need to get to know them. I think it will win an award. Call it a hunch.

After The Principle, I bolted over to St. Mary’s, but my first show there was canceled so it became dinner time! Back at James Street after an attempt to eat at Park House, I wound up sitting next to The Pink Hulk herself, Valerie David! We had a whole corner of the bar just for New Yorkers. Yay for making friends!

On Friday I saw the very first show of the festival, and now it was time for me to see the very last: Krish Mohan’s Approaching Happiness. Approaching Happiness is Mohan’s standup act, that he has performed on tour throughout the country. As the title suggests, Mohan is interested in helping people to be happy, particularly those with anxiety and mental illness. Starting with the personal, his own anxiety and its origins – his discussion expands to society and the human mind. With jokes, of course. That sounded a bit heavy, but don’t worry, it definitely is comedy.

One of the Fringe volunteers told me “The closer you get to the front, the better it will be for you.” I was the only one who heeded that advice, so I wound up alone in the front row, receiving a lot of eye contact. Which kind of fit with the talk of anxiety. I was feeling it. Comedy’s not always supposed to be comfortable, and Mohan warns at the top that he’s going to get weird and esoteric. He keeps his promise, but fortunately also keeps you laughing.

The night ended with the awards ceremony, where I got to see a ton of familiar faces from the weekend and enjoy a few drinks with the rest of the PITR crew that spent their weekends running between the venues. Overall, it was a solid day and weekend.

Stay tuned for more Pittsburgh Fringe fun! Follow along with our adventures through our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #PITRdoesFringe 
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival for complimentary press passes. For more information about Fringe, click here. 

First Time Fringer Saturday!

Whereas the Fringe line up on Friday was a combination of plays in both the dramatic and comedic vein, the line up today was much more oriented towards what one would colloquially describe as music of the alternative nature with an ending of a sombre (and for this reviewer, remarkably personal) note.

The Dorothy Matrix 8 Bit Orchestra

dorothy-matrix-72dpiHosted in the basement of Saint Mary’s Lyceum, this musical performance lies somewhere electronic and classical music genres meet. The titular Dorothy Matrix is actually Andrew Davis, a Philadelphia based musician who also works under the alias SloppyGoop. Matrix also has an assistant, Shari O’Sound, who is played by the remarkably charming Cory Kram. Together Matrix and O’Sound (or Davis and Kram, or SloppyGoop and Kram) have rigged together eight nintendo gameboys, which as any gamer who was alive during the early 90’s will remember operate on 8 bits. O’Sound controls the technical elements, while Matrix acts as the conductor. I hope this doesn’t come off as offensive, but there were several times during the performance when Kram reminded me of Mickey Mouse as the Socerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia. There is also an element of drag to the performance, which I’m not sure how much to play up or play down because Kram did not acknowlege this element during the entire performance.

One of the smartest bits of the performance is that Kram makes references to a fictional universe video games. The ingame universe revolves around stones including a fourth atonal stone, which a glitch. This whole video game and glitch element are reminiscent of Wreck It Ralph and the candy game glitch princess that was played by Sarah Silverman. An audience could expect to Rachmaninoff, Bach, Dvorak, Camille Saint-Soens, and Beethoven. The performance also used several pieces from a film, which I believe is called Lieutentant Kije and which as a lover of Russian film I intend to hunt down at a later date.

Laundry Night

After starting off my morning at Saint Mary’s Lyceum (which by the way has laundry-night-72an awesome membership that I’m planning on joining shortly), I made my way to Artists Image Resource to see Laundry Night. If you think that a pair of Kiss boots, a golden cape, an accordian, and a large blowup dinosaur make for an awesome show, you need to check out Ambivalent Man. Ambivalent Man is a solo performer from Chicago, Illinois. I’d bill him as an accordian player, but that’s not necessarily true. There are also several Ambivalent Man songs that were originally recorded on prerecorded instruments that you used to be able to buy (and maybe still can) at Toys R Us. Ambivalent Man is from Chicago (or at least spent some time there) but his demeanor due to his dreamy and faraway quality remind me more of the Pacific northwest than Chicago.

The story told by Ambivalent Man revolves around Ambivalent Man’s struggle for love in Chicago, laundry based problems, and slow rise to international obscurity as a sideline figure in America’s Got Talent footage. There are several costume changes (and dinosaur inflations) throughout the performance, and at the very least Ambivalent Man’s performance is consistently surprising. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say that Ambivalent Man has some inklings of Emo Phillips, who also spent time in the Downer’s Grove part of Illinois. If you like the strange and peculiar, Ambivalent Man and Laundry Night is a can’t miss.

The Booth

the-booth-photo_origThe Booth was the first opportunity that I have had to check out the new Alphabet City building. Fortunately, due to both The Booth and Sophia Mintas I was able to see both the upstairs and downstairs parts of the very new Alphabet City building. As a resident of the war streets, I’ve been very excited about this building and all that is has to offer in the city of Pittsburgh. The Booth is a very funny, very clever (for those who are in the business) play about the lives of three “booth” people during the run of a play. Written by lance-eric skapura and so artfully directed by Alice McAllister, this play was a good piece of short writing.

In less than 30 minutes, The Booth made me laugh and wonder how much of the play was based on real life events. Special note should go to Lisa Germ as Athena Patel who is a gift to good comedic timing in Pittsburgh as well as Chelsea Forbes (Paul) and Bruce Story-Camp (Robert) of whom comedy is well played. Usually, in that amount of time, I don’t have those needs met. In a short amount of time, The Booth is to the punch. I don’t think the piece will run in larger circulation so I’d say check this out again, but instead I’ll say check out all of those involved.

Sophia Mintas Live!

Due to the influences (classical, maybe opera?) I felt a bit out of my ballpark sophia-mintas-fullsizerender-3_origlistening to Sophia Mintas. She’s a young songwriter and a voice student at Duquesne University. All I can say are good things. There’s a remarkably engaging quality about Sophia Mintas. In between the songs, Mintas told stories about her stuffed elephant, hot pink roses, how she got angry when her significant other did not call her and a childhood love of ice cream. Mintas has performed in  (and gained inspiration from her time in) Italy, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh. Many of her lyrics focus on the transcendent nature of love and the human being experience. Mintas has a very rich voice that serves as a fine compliment to her piano playing. The performance was held in the upper part of Alphabet City which has a lovely bookshop with some very interesting selections by local authors and deep, red curtains that remind me of the red room in Twin Peaks. I was very impressed with the Alphabet City building and plan on going back some time soon.

The Pink Hulk

For the last show of my Fringe Festival run, I headed back to Artists Image Resource. After a day that was spent taking in mostly unique and memorable music act, this was a very emotional performance to sit through. The Pink Hulk is a one woman play by Valerie David about her experience as a survivor of both lymphoma and breast cancer.

David uses a large amount of comedy and heartbreaking honesty to deal with the difficult topics of the play. As a two year survivor of stage three testicular cancer, I connected with this work on a remarkably personal level. I understood very well the topics that David brought up in the play like having valerie-david-the-pink-hulk-richard-booper-photography-pressyour hair until two weeks into chemotherapy and then watching it fall out in clumps, the struggles of chemotherapy, the feelings of desertion by the people to which you are closest. That said and this is a very small point, at one juncture in the play David posits that stage 2 breast cancer was worse than lymphoma. As cancer survivors, David and many others (including myself) frequently find ourselves comparing one form of cancer to another as if it was some strange comparison contest. The two cancers that David had are both brutal and not comparable. (Other than, breast cancer is a direct assault on one’s femininity in the same way that testicular cancer is a direct assault on one’s masculinity.)

That David was able to turn her experience into a play and has the blind courage as a performer to speak about her time in the fire with such candor is nothing short of a demonstration of her many gifts as an artist. If you or a loved one has been affected by any type of cancer, I’d follow David and try to see The Pink Hulk. While a very hard performance to sit through, the play is also immensely rewarding. It was nice to end the Fringe Festival with David’s piece, it brought me back into the daily concerns and perspective that David and I have as survivors while also giving me strength.

Stay tuned for more Pittsburgh Fringe fun! Follow along with our adventures through our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #PITRdoesFringe 
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival for complimentary press passes. For tickets, day passes, and more information, click here. 

 

Friday Fringe at AIR!

17636851_781096878709340_3255313992491545639_oThe evening began with the ridiculous but thoroughly entertaining one man show Laundry Night by Captain Ambivalent.  Captain Ambivalent sings with the accompaniment of a gold accordion,  telling the story of an ordinary super hero.  The one man show reflects on the struggles of being a regular guy in Chicago, through lyrics reminiscent of They Might Be Giants or King Missile.  Sharing experiences of heartbreak, boredom and public transit as well as his rise to local fame, and a brief stint on America’s Got Talent. His costumes and props, including a 15’ purple inflatable dinosaur(not Barney) compliment the silliness of his lyrics.  The show is amusing and certainly a production all ages will enjoy.  Of course in Pittsburgh, everyone loves the the accordion.  All music performed is original, except for the famed 1989 hit by Technotronic, Pump Up the Jam, which is beyond hilarious played on an accordion.  

Next up, is Melissa Cole’s Mo-to-the-Oncle.  The story begins when Detroit img-2737Price loses his vision insurance, just at the time his teenage son, Detroit Price Jr. is in need of new glasses.  When Price reveals to the eyewear associate he has no vision coverage for his son, Detroit Jr is provided with a monocle in place of eyeglasses. The teen is horrified at the abuse he anticipates upon returning to school with a monocle. He goes to school only to have his greatest fear come true.  Another student threatens to jump Detroit Jr, so he elicits the help if his uncle, a pimp.  

Through detailed costume changes, voice reflection and finely tuned body language Cole expertly presents each character; father, optical sale associate, teenager, pimp and doctor.  The program lists Mo-to-the-Oncle as a comedy.  Detroit Jr’s rhyme is clever, the colorful characters depicted by writer/ performer Cole are well developed, the dialogue is sharp but in today’s political climate, to clarify this is a dark comedy.

Proxemics, a wearable art performance by local Pittsburgh fabric sculpturer hannah-thompson_origHannah Thompson is performed on the 3rd floor at AIR, in the gallery exhibiting Visual Fringe 2017 artists. By definition,  Proxemics is the study of humans use of space and the effects of population on behavior, communication and the ways in which humans interact with one another. I was intrigued by the synopsis in the program, I enjoy how performance art challenges my perceptions. Unfortunately, this performance was tarnished for me before it even began.  The artist arrived late, experienced technical difficulties with her music and as she prepared her props, she casually engaged other audience members in conversation about her political positions. When launched, the performance consisted of Thompson climbing into several elaborate cocoon-like stretchy ‘Snuggie’s’. Then she rolled around on the floor, extending her arms and legs or stood and stretched inside the long tubes of fabric.  Maybe she was practicing yoga or some form of free movement dance.  No one else in the audience seemed bothered.  Others mingled around after the 20-minute show engaging the artist in conversation and asking questions.  Performance art? Definitely, but definitely not my thing.

The Pink Hulk: One Woman’s Journey to Find the Superhero Within is written valerie-david-the-pink-hulk-richard-booper-photography-pressand performed by Valerie David, 2 time cancer survivor and improv artist.  Part anecdotal comedy and 100% personal narrative, solo artist David shares her terror,  frustration, depression and anger after learning she is diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks after celebrating her fifteenth anniversary of being cancer free from Lymphoma.  David bares her soul and owns the stage as she reveals the darkest time of her life; a direct attack on her womanhood; breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.  She holds back nothing, is brutally honest and frank. This is uncomfortable and frightening but David’s skill for storytelling puts me on the edge of my seat, almost immediately feeling an alliance with her.   She uses minimal props and I am tempted to say, they could actually be eliminated altogether as her narrative and stage presence are engaging enough.  

pittsburgh-image-2The Portable Dorothy Parker written by Annie Lux is a flashback in time.  The year is 1944, New York.  Writer Dorothy Parker is visited by a young editor for Viking Press, tasked to help edit the soon to be released The Portable Dorothy Parker.  Parker reflects on her time working for Vanity Fair, her friends and enemies, and the places she visited and shares these experiences and stories.   Actor Margot Avery portrays Parker over the course of the eighty minute solo performance.   Avery delivers Parkers witticisms and a straightforward rendition of her life and career with brilliant ease.  Avery reincarnates Parker on stage, and Lux channels her intellectual poise and intelligent cynicism through the script. The show, directed by Lee Costello is smart and moves fast despite being nearly an hour and a half of monologue.  

Avery’s ability to capture and exhibit Parker through delivery of dialogue, body language and slight movement are further captured through the use of period dress.   If you are a Dorothy Parker connoisseur, do not skip this performance.

Stay tuned for more Pittsburgh Fringe fun! Follow along with our adventures through our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #PITRdoesFringe 
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival for complimentary press passes. For tickets, day passes, and more information, click here.