BWW Review: Living Life to the Fullest with Valerie David's THE PINK HULK
When seeing a show, we tend to admire the actors for their ability to do just that: act. To tell a story that makes us forget our own lives for a few hours and marvel in the tragedy or glee of that story they have to tell. We tend not to know much of their personal lives, or anything other than the performance they now share with us. So, it is rare when the person and performance are one in the same - where the actor has experienced the life she portrays on stage. Not only that, but her journey on stage can barely be called "acting" because of how genuine it is - as though a light emanates from her very soul to make both her and her performance glow. Watching Valerie David perform The Pink Hulk: One Woman's Journey to Find the Superhero Within is something so rare and so marvelous; it is the most powerful and poignant two hours I have ever spent at a theater.
Written/performed by Valerie David and directed by Padraic Lillis and Maris Heller, The Pink Hulk is just about to finish its New York run at the 14th Street Y; performances are October 8th thru October 13th. Valerie's one-woman show was accepted into 26 different festivals in both the U,S. and Europe over the course of 2 1/2 years, and has received quite a number of great reviews and accolades. Now, The Pink Hulk is something quite special - not only because it is autobiographical and gives a rare opportunity to take part in the performer's life story as she bears all on stage, but because it is not shy of bringing a message of hope to anyone who ever needed someone to just say that things will be ok. And even if life doesn't quite turn out that way, she instills the belief in you that whatever comes our way is always just another obstacle that we have the strength to overcome.
Valerie was diagnosed with cancer on not one, but two occasions. The first time, she battled Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - the second, breast cancer. At the time of this run, she changed the ending of her story to include a third run-in with breast cancer soon after the second; she mercifully now has no evidence of disease. You could imagine someone who has experienced such horrible news time and time again to be saddened, weakened by life and perhaps ready to give in. Not Valerie. She is a spark of light, a force that (like the Hulk) only grows in strength and ability each time she is called upon to fight for the life she holds so dear. When I mentioned that theater is typically a time to forget our own lives for a few short hours, her performance does the complete opposite.
Through the story she tells with The Pink Hulk, it's like having some sort of revelation while sitting in your seat. She makes you realize that life is precious, a sort of personal revelation that many of us were given no reason to ever have. This woman has fought for her life three times, and she's still smiling! She's still performing, still serving as a beacon of hope for anyone who ever thought her (or his - plenty of men in the audience) time to shine has passed long ago. Her performance is life changing, not life forgetting, and we should all be a little grateful that there are people like Valerie David to lighten the way.
Valerie wrote The Pink Hulk "to express the empowerment she felt being able to find humor and superhero inner strength going through her bouts of cancer." This is where her drama background comes in handy, even though she is reliving her life on stage (which hardly calls for any added emotion!). She takes good care of her audience by making them laugh about her attempts to bed a man before she begins treatment for breast cancer; she then navigates over to the inexplicable side of life, expressing her grief each time she discovers that cancer has found her yet again.
Valerie describes how hard it was to have her womanhood slowly stripped away with a type of cancer that jeopardizes all that she is. She explains how some of her best friends drifted away in her time of need, and each emotion she goes through from the beginning of her treatment, down to the very end (and present day). I brought my mom with me to this performance - my mom, who is an ovarian cancer survivor and one of the strongest women I know. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her wiping away a few tears and nodding in agreement with how Valerie describes her journey with cancer. It was hard to see someone so strong not hide her grief any longer and just let those emotions, once bottled up, just come out. She is in awe of someone like Valerie who can remain so strong, day after day, not knowing if her third bout of cancer will ever return but keeping faith enough to believe it won't. If my mom can admire her, so can I - my mom know's what she's talking about.
Valerie gives a performance that really tests the limits of how long you can go without shedding a tear, or how long you've lived your life all wrong since hearing this woman's inspirational story. She uses her love of theater, improv and expression to not only entertain others, but to get through these difficult times; she does not just act the part of Valerie David, but actually uses her time on stage for all it could ever be worth. She is a presence that many of us are lucky to find ourselves half of in our entire lives. She is an advocate of hope, a supporter of curing cancer for both children and adults, and also takes her bike and rides marathons. How wonderful to have so many gifts to share with others: the gift of theater, the gift of making people laugh (and cry) - the gift of wanting to make the world better, using your own suffering. as a catalyst.
I mean, there are really some people who are meant to shine a little brighter than others in this world, and Valerie is undoubtedly one of them.
At the end of Friday night's performance, Valerie hosted a talk-back and told of her inspirations for The Pink Hulk and why she continues to do what she does. It is amazing how many people came out to support her - from doctors to her creative team, to other cancer survivors you didn't even realize you were sitting next to, there was such a universal sense of love and support that is hard not to allow to seep into your very core. She then took a picture with the audience as a momento - a memory to bring with her on her travels with The Pink Hulk to come. And more will there be!
Valerie will continue to bring her one-woman show to audiences around the world, her next stop being Richmond, VA. If unable to see her there, please consider donating to keeping both her show and message alive by visiting here. You can also join her mailing list to keep up with her journey by emailing PinkHulkPlay@gmail.com.
The Pink Hulk: One Woman's Journey to Find the Superhero Within began performances at the Theater at the 14th Street Y (located at 344 E. 14th Street) on October 8th, and will continue thru October 13th. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $15 for seniors/students/special interest groups. The final two performances will be held on October 13th at 1pm and 5 pm, and tickets may be purchased either at the box office or by clicking here. The show runs for 75 minutes with no intermission. For more information on the show, please visit the play's website here.
Thank you Valerie!
Photo Credits: Rick Dewitt/Gray Dragon Photography