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A CurtainUp Phildelphia Review

I'm coming to you, Elizabeth!— Bishop Ahni by way of Fred Sanford
 I Promised myself
Dito van Reigersberg (L) Mikeah Ernest Jennings (R)(Photo: Bill Brymer)
Fresh from its World Premiere at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actor's Theater of Louisville, Pig Iron's I Promised Myself to Live Faster is back home in Philadelphia and onstage at FringeArts' year-round entertainment hub along the Delaware.

Pig Iron co-founder Dito Van Reigersberg, a prodigious performer, aces his roles: announcer Martha Graham Cracker; Bishop Ahni, who's in denial; and a wicked Emperor. It's highly unusual to see his drag queen persona in a Pig Iron production. But then this is a gay quest and Martha Graham Cracker's encounter with Pig Iron is just the first of many collisions.

I Promised Myself to Live Faster feels as if young absurdist and proto-Surrealist Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), maker of his own imaginary universe, collided with a fierce, cosmic, outsize Alexander McQueen in a galaxy far far away.

Actually the inspiration came from admiration for the work of the late Charles Ludlum of Ridiculous Theatrical Company fame, who died too soon. Playwright Gregory S. Moss, together with Pig Iron, worked out the story. They stick to a playful Ludlum aesthetic and the show takes itself a lot less seriously than do the accompanying Program Notes. The sophistication of the design concept contrasts with the gay abandon and spoofing comedy of the acting, and the satiric, dada quality that pervades the performance calls to mind young foolish plays like the ones my friends and I made up and performed in high school – plays that got us kicked out on our young ears.

Mikeah Ernest Jennings, an interesting actor, plays young Tim. Depressed, mourning, and bed-ridden in slacker catatonia, he's prodded into action, and after a very curious incident in the scuzzy men's room of a mysterious gay bar his unusual pursuit is set in motion. Suddenly Tim has goals and obligations within an extreme and expansive alternate reality, and he's forced to live faster in spite of himself. Nothing less than the future of gays in the universe is at stake.

Teamed up with Van Reigersberg Bishop ("There are no homosexuals on this planet. Only married men."), they ride and quest together. Transformed during his journey into a skimpily gold-clad hero, Tim learns to care again and to value himself, although "heavy" underlying themes get a light touch and the connection of the silly story to the underlying real grief for Ludlam gets tangled up in the mayhem.

Jennifer Kidwell, Mary McCool, and Michelle Tauber, outer space nuns whose tale would benefit from tighter exposition, also play other more interesting roles, among them a little boy, a great gay bartender, and intergalactic Nazis -"Tim, You're the worst. Yeah, the liverwurst."

Costume designer Machine Dazzle assisted by Jillian Keys has fashioned joyful, outrageous, meticulous, and a bit naughty visual creations that range from a slithery kind of Chinese New Year dragon, to fantasy fashion robes and enormous headgear, including humorous clerical headdresses. William Boles glittering set design and Robert Kaplowitz's sound and music do the clever things they need to do.

Twenty years ago Pig Iron set the bar high for new theater. Now it's their unspoken challenge to raise the bar with each production, or at a minimum, to meet expectations. Of late we haven't seen the giddy alchemy of the Pig Iron founders' early work-- their new aesthetic of undignified, intelligent, and peculiar humor. But like Brownian motion after a collision, Pig Iron works move with different velocities in different directions. No production is ever the same as the last one, and this extravaganza holds hints of Pig Iron brilliance.

I Promised Myself to Live Faster
by Gregory S. Moss and Pig Iron Theatre Company
Directed by Dan Rothenberg
Cast/Creators: Mikeah Ernest Jennings, Jennifer Kidwell, Mary McCool, Dito van Reigersberg, Michele Tauber
Scenic Design: William Boles
Lighting Design: Ji-youn Chang
Costume Design: Machine Dazzle, Associate Costume Design: Jillian Keys
Sound Design and Additional Music: Rob Kaplowitz
Choreographer: Sam Pinkleton
1 hour and 45 minutes
May 22- May 31. Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 05/27/2015 performance. Pig Iron Theatre Company at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd. Philadelphia
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