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St. Lou Fringe
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St. Lou Fringe
Jamie McKittrick sits, sullen and motionless, her silver Keds crowned in pink neon laces. We enter the space to a blank stage, fold-out chair, and a woman staring forward at no one in particular. “Sparkle – Ta-Daa!!!” is about to begin. Party-dressed and perking up, McKittrick contorts her face into a nervous grin, squiggles on her seat like an antsy toddler, sports fuchsia panties that match her hair. Floor-standing speakers announce the likely thoughts of recumbent audience members: “Is this the show? Is this really theater? What is she doing up there?”
Aggressively girly, McKittrick makes us uncomfortable. And that is how we should be. Whether tap-dancing neurotically to old-school tunes or over-vibrato-ing a stale refrain from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, she actively calls attention to what we expect women to do on stage. A Critic’s Pick for this year’s St. Lou Fringe festival, McKittrick warmly embraces the subversive potential of female spectacle as art. She invites our gaze then gazes back—with direct, disquieting intimacy.
Under the tutelage of college mentor Lenny Sack, an early member of Richard Schechner’s experimental ensemble The Performance Group, McKittrick focused on “developing a sense of how to organize and develop the intuitive and subconscious dream world,” leading to a theater that rejects trauma for joy as a means of catharsis. McKittrick swallows human fears then coughs up the glittery abject—literally, as jewel-toned giant sequins escape her mouth during a monologue on falling in love. In a blithely absurd moment midway through the show, she hands the mic to a singing cupcake whose doleful rendition of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” proves painfully hilarious. The joy produced by “Sparkle– Ta-Daa!!!” is hard won, and all the more dazzling for it.
Similarly creative in cultivating a purposefully self-conscious persona, Siobhan O’Loughlin tweezes out the contradictions specific to female body hair in "Natural Novice." Is to depilate to devastate? Must the natural offend? And who decides what is “natural” anyway? At turns droll, introspective, panicked, and chatty, O’Loughlin energetically waxes on about, well, waxing, shaving, and her decision to defer all form of defurrment. Winning the 2014 “Fringe Crush” award for her solo show, O’Loughlin shines most when impersonating those radically different in appearance and background—a transgender woman whose pubic hair removal is nothing less than spiritually empowering, a Chinese friend who shaves even the top of her knuckles, a chin-haired South Carolinian whose refusal to pluck is pluck indeed.
Through wildly different in tone and approach, both “Sparkle– Ta-Daa!!!” and “Natural Novice” command our attention. McKittrick and O’Loughlin render an implicit feminist momentum a force with which to reckon—for anyone who has ever craved a sweet, clasped a sequin, or tossed a Schick in a trashcan.
Jamie McKittrick is a St. Louis native, and part of the Salt House Collective, a theater group from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Siobhan O’Loughlin is from Brooklyn; “Natural Novice” is touring Minneapolis, Seattle, and Chicago this summer. More information can be found at siobhanoloughlin.com.