Allana Harkin, Sarah Michelle Brown, Nicole Leroux, Kiran Friesan, and Patrice Goodman in FIRST HAND WOMAN. Photo by Joanne Klimaszewski. Note, this photo is from an earlier production and some of the cast has changed.
BOTTOM LINE: A familiar story is told in a unique way in this powerful, emotionally charged show.
Tales of heartbreak and failed relationships are certainly nothing new to the subject matter explored by the Fringe Festival’s annual offerings, but actor and writer Sarah Michelle Brown tells a familiar story in a new way: by separating the emotions one goes through when dealing with heartbreak into five separate characters all telling the same story. The five women are known as Depression (Brown), Anger (Patrice Goodman), Acceptance (Allana Harkin), Bargaining (Nicole Maroon), and Denial (Victoria Murdoch). They all tell the story of their ill-fated relationship with Harold, a man who seems ideal initially, but as time goes on proves himself to be hateful and abusive, ultimately leaving them for another woman.
The play opens with the five women telling a fairy tale-like story of a perfect romance, showing how far the expectations we are taught to have are from reality. Denial describes how when she found Harold “the stars aligned,” and that his love “is all that I need.” Bargaining accepts the shortcomings of the relationship but is just “doing what I must do to get what I need.” Anger is a fiery blaze of frustration pointing blame at everyone including magazines “that tell me I need a man.” Depression can barely stand, and has lost all hope for living. Acceptance, meanwhile, announces that she is a Libra and just wants to balance the harsh reality with her optimism and move on.
Through movement and music the women cathartically express the emotions one goes through when trying to find their way out of an especially terrible break up, and in one scene show themselves laying on the stage in despair only to swim their way up and back to their lives. In one particularly funny scene Acceptance describes how they faked all of their orgasms with Harold anyways and makes all of the emotions promise to never do that ever again. “Take back the fake,” they chant as the houselights come on over the audience, encouraging them to chant along as well. Acceptance describes a healing moment involving a vibrator and red high heels in which she learns to own her own sexuality as her own special force, rather than something owned and controlled by a man. In a scene that is both touching and hilarious, Depression describes missing Harold’s body, and waking up with the feeling of a “phantom penis,” something you think is there but really isn’t at all.
First Hand Woman covers familiar territory, but through its unique approach makes an old story seem new. The sound effects and music provided by Alejandra Nunez and Saidah Baba Talibah help to add emphasis and tension to key moments. The use of dance and movement also helps to visualize emotional turmoil. All of the performers are highly engaging in their roles, especially Nicole Maroon who seems to show ceaseless energy, and Allana Harkin who delivers many of the play’s funnier lines. Women complaining about romantic and sexual disappointments are something you will see elsewhere in the Fringe, but few shows will explore these topics with such strong emotions and honesty. Those dealing with their own heartbreak will surely find catharsis in this work.
(First Hand Woman plays at The Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street, through August 22, 2013. Remaining performances are August 18th at 9:15PM, August 22nd at 3:30PM, and August 23rd at 3:45PM.Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door and are available at fringenyc.org or by calling 866-468-7619.)