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.
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.
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.