Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Review - A Pickle - Really Spicy Opera - 5 stars

tweet review - #MNFringe show 31 - A Pickle - great script, great performance, recreating the story of an MN original (and those pickles) - 5 stars

A Pickle was a weird Fringe show to tweet about because I found myself hesitating.  Sharp, smart, funny script by Deborah Yarchun, beautifully acted by Angela Timberman under the direction of Basil Considine for Really Spicy Opera (not that it was an opera, or even a musical, that’s just the company’s name).  There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, so that’s a 5 star show, right?  So why was I hesitating and thinking, “Oh, that can’t be a five, really, can it - it must only a four and a half”?  Where’s my bias coming from?

“You do not go up against the Minnesota State Fair.”

A Pickle is about a real life woman named Doris who came to be known as The Pickle Lady when she took on the Minnesota State Fair for rejecting the pickles she submitted for the food competition.  Turns out the judges at the Minnesota State Fair weren’t familiar with kosher pickles and thought they looked spoiled.  In fact, they thought that about every one of the jars of kosher pickles submitted.  So where does tradition end and anti-Semitism begin?

“When you love something, you put your love into that thing.”

That makes things sound darker than they are here.  Doris is a bright and bubbly woman.  She cares about justice and fairness, but she doesn’t see prejudice around every corner.  She’s experienced it from a young age but she doesn’t let it sour her life.  And she doesn’t want to spoil things for anybody else.  So how far do you take this battle?  Turns out, pretty far.  Doris is an unlikely crusader, but when the cause and the other people it affects present themselves to her, she doesn’t shrink from the task.

“Giving away food makes your soul fuller and your belly lighter.”

One person shows are hard.  Good single character stories, and good actors to tell them, are rare.  Here, with A Pickle, we have both.  Maybe it was the scale of the story that made me hesitate.  Maybe it was the local flavor - I tend to resist a Minnesota story being presented to me as important simply because it’s set in Minnesota and I live now in Minnesota.  It’s good to take pride in your adopted home, but I tend to be more incredulous than the average audience member when someone breaks out the tried and true “Minnesota humor.”  But that’s not what’s going on here.  Yarchun’s humor comes from its source, Doris, and is truthfully rendered by Timberman in her performance.  It’s not a cliche.

“He grew up to be a very talented door knob salesman.”

Also, my transplant status in Minnesota probably doesn’t allow me to fully comprehend the enormity of what Doris was attempting here - she was going up against the Minnesota State Fair.  It wasn’t just a local Twin Cities thing, it was the entire state of Minnesota.  A lifelong Minnesotan probably gets the true scale of this story more than I ever will.  Even so, her dogged pursuit of fairness is impressive.

“I’m not sure there’s an end to this story.  It keeps going.”

I also need to be careful that my training to think “drama serious/comedy light and fluffy” is a false choice, as evidenced by the many, many powerful pieces of very funny I’ve seen both in and out of the Fringe over the years.  Plus, the really good stuff, as A Pickle is here, is never all one or the other.  They’re always a mix of both.  (This is especially true of the other great scripts of Deborah Yarchun with which I'm familiar.  A Pickle is different than those plays, given that it's a solo show rather than a play with multiple characters, but it still fits comfortably side by side with the rest of her body of work.  Doris is a lot happier and more mentally stable than a number of Yarchun's other characters, but just like the rest of them, she has a battle to fight.)

“I didn’t get a single hate letter, just calls from the rejected.”

So that’s why I shook off my knee-jerk prejudices and gave A Pickle and those involved the rating they deserve.  Audiences certainly responded.  The entire run was almost completely sold out, and the encore performance was sold out before it was even officially announced.  Once again, a good story finds its people.  It’s why we all do Fringe, in the hopes it will happen to us, on both sides of the stage lights.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

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