By Jessie Bear; Directed by Stefan Hartmann
Part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.29.15
VENUE #14: The White Box at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
by Ken Kaissar on 8.21.15
Jessie Bear and Anne Flowers (background) in Type What Now. Photo by Jiuxing June Xie.
BOTTOM LINE: A personal and entertaining account of a woman’s experience being diagnosed and learning to live with diabetes.
Type What Now is the most compelling and personal piece of educational theatre I’ve ever seen. This is solo theatre meets a TEDTalk, and I say that as a huge fan of all things TED. In fact, I’d love to see Jessie Bear, who conceived, wrote, performed and produced the show, adapt a twenty-minute excerpt into a TEDTalk; it would reach a lot of people and do a lot of good, which is ultimately my hope for this piece.
Bear stands before the audience and narrates her real-life experience getting diagnosed and learning to live as a diabetic. As she does, an alarm interrupts more than once letting her know that she needs to check her blood sugar level. This is not a sound cue. Her alarm is really going off, and she is really checking her blood sugar before our very eyes. She refers to these interruptions as annoying, but watching Bear attend to the immediate needs of her health becomes part of the story, and after hearing her explain what the numbers mean and what they ought to be, one can easily become engrossed in this minutiae and thus invested in her results.
Bear is magnificent. Her narrative is delivered with humor and fueled by a need to communicate the wisdom about body image that she has gained through her illness. Her need to tell the story creates great urgency and prevents the performance from being a self-indulgent pity party. Bear is telling her story for our benefit, not hers. My attention and interest did not budge for ninety straight minutes.
Bear is joined by Anne Flowers, who tirelessly plays everyone else in the story, including all of Bear’s doctors and nurses, her boyfriend, and even figments of her imagination. Flowers puts her hair up, down, up again, throws on a lab coat, slips into a dress, and pauses in between each costume change to deliver a one-liner that accompanies Bear’s perpetual narration.
Director Stefan Hartman keeps the narrative focused and constantly moving forward without digression or detour. Every moment is necessary and poignant, without a single beat of excess, which is quite an achievement for a performer telling a personal story.
So if the TED people are reading, do America a favor by giving Jessie Bear a platform. If not, I hope Ms. Bear will consider taking her show on tour to schools all over the country. In ninety minutes, it taught me more about diabetes than I could ever get out of a book. But more than that, it delivers a message about healthy body image that teenagers would do very well to take to heart.
(Type What Now plays at VENUE #14: The White Box at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor, through August 29, 2015. Performances are Mon 8/17 at 7; Fri 8/21 at 8:45; Sun 8/23 at 4:30; Thu 8/27 at 9; and Sat 8/29 at Noon. The extra Fringe Fave performance is on Sun 8/30 at Noon. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit www.thejessbear.com.)