AJ Clay brings us their pick of the first week of this year’s Fringe
Becoming Austin Nation Fringe Online, YouTube
[Content warning: racist language, suicide]
At 26, Austin Nation was a crack addict, HIV positive, and at rock bottom. Thanks to discovering drag and pursuing a PhD, he managed to turn his life around, and in this one-man show he tells the warts-and-all story.
As the show progresses, Austin gradually sheds his everyday clothes and applies the makeup, glitter and fabulous dress that turns him into drag persona A’Freeka Nature. In the depths of addiction, experimenting with drag was one way Austin dealt with the situation, and now he’s won several awards and even auditioned for RuPaul’s Drag Race. Not bad for someone raised in a troubled household ‘with enough guilt to last a lifetime’.
Austin is a charismatic, compelling storyteller, even when recounting harrowing tales of racism and homophobia, and reaching a point of hopelessness where the only option was to ‘party until the end’. His arrival at Cedars-Sinai Hospital and discovering AIDS patients for the first time during the
‘gay cancer’ rhetoric is particularly sobering, as is laying out the myriad of drugs such as AZT which he takes to stay alive. There’s a real sense of him gradually finding his community of allies, whether it’s the handful of black students in lectures, or choosing a drag name that reflects his roots.
He proudly announces that he’s now 19 years sober, still thriving aged 60 and is now a nursing academic at California State University. Austin talks about rewriting his narrative, and if this show is to go by he’s certainly succeeded.
Am I Alone? John K [Fringe Online, YouTube] (@WAVStory, @VLAHOSVOICE)
‘I had an arrogance built upon the life of the quotidian.’
In this unsettling, compelling spoken-word show, former professional opera singer Stephanie Vlahos explores how modern living has changed our sense of community and increased feelings of isolation. Through direct addresses to the audience and audio conversations between an unseen Mission Control and astronaut John K Mercury, Vlahos gradually begins to weave both dramatic strands together until the artist is almost indistinguishable from the fictional subject.
Having shaken off the ‘blessed albatross’ of gravity, John travels to Mars for the benefit of mankind’s survival, but finds his isolation to be imperfect and unbearable. The space to think is constantly interrupted by the voice of Mission Control- at first male, and then a mysterious woman known only as ‘Forthright’. Perhaps in a nod to anonymous online interactions, Jack in his infatuation declares ‘I don’t need to look at you to know you’re beautiful’.
Naturally, the COVID pandemic has influenced the narrative; with our lives reduced to digital online profiles in lockdown, and our homes becoming sanctuaries we hide in, there’s been a shift from the real-life community ties to isolated hermit-hood. As Jack lapses into dreams of bustling Earth streets,
Vlahos delivers a passionate address in front of crude caveman-style paintings and modern graffiti, tinged with a yearning to somehow become less virtual and more human again, to stand out in a ‘tribe of loners’.
A thought-provoking, timely piece. ****
Growing Up Ringside: A One-Woman Show By Mina Liccione [Fringe Online, Vimeo]
The boxing ring is something that Italian-American Mina Liccione is very familiar with, and the setbacks she’s experienced in her career lend themselves well to the metaphor. Growing up with a
boxing promoter dad, overprotective Italian mama, fussy nonnas and a surprising number of Tonys, Mina dreams of Broadway stardom. The reality, though, is much more complex, taking in failed dance troupe auditions, encounters with a boxing legend, circus training and a trip to Dubai which ends up one-way.
Despite bronchitis, Mina is full of sassy energy on stage. Her stand-up is interspersed with family photos and videos, touching animations of father and daughter, and poignant poetry. While mostly light in tone, it touches on addiction, pregnancy difficulties, racial stereotypes, and police interactions in the age of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There’s plenty to laugh at, however. The Italian vampire section and cringeworthy Stomp audition were highlights, as well as the evergreen Italian refrain ‘but ehhh, that’s just me’, a disclaimer that Mina’s father applies to any and all situations.
Even when she hits the ropes, such as her hospital stay jeopardising her dance career, she comes back fighting, keen to regain her laughter and give something back to those who need it most. From stand-up in care homes to clowning for sick children, Liccione has certainly achieved her goal.
It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, but more importantly it’ll make you want to cook a big pot of pasta sauce with your family.