Review: ‘Hello! Sadness!’ at FringeArts

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Mary Tuomanen’s fiercely political solo performance Hello! Sadness! dreamily jolts through time and space. It blends together disparate historic figures and fictional characters, from Joan of Arc and the actress who embodied her on film, Jean Seberg, to Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, to Hamlet, and to Tuomanen herself.

Mary Tuomanen. Photo courtesy FringeArts.
Mary Tuomanen. Photo courtesy FringeArts.

Tuomanen’s work comes at a pivotal moment in America’s political climate. As we see millions march around the country for women’s rights, as the Black Lives Matter movement carries onward, and as many fear oppression from a corrupt government, we need to see theatre like Hello! Sadness!

Of course, what call for a proletarian revolution doesn’t come with plenty of humor? Tuomanen expertly shifts the tone of the piece from heavy somberness to comedy, but then right back to melancholy. Dressed in a costume piece that evokes both modern young-girl and medieval prince simultaneously, she dominates the stage at FringeArts. She baits us in with her charm and holds us in the palm of her hand as she eviscerates the patriarchy.

Hello! Sadness! plays like one long dream sequence of seemingly disjointed concepts and people woven together in interconnected vignettes. While the piece may be Tuomanen’s brainchild, director Annie Wilson guides the staging and acting choices. Maria Shaplin’s projections serve as scenery, as the stage is otherwise totally bare. Those projections include images of real and fake historical documents, plus video footage from Seberg’s films and Hampton’s speeches. They add a documentary tone to certain moments of the piece, and allow some of the attention to be diverted from Tuomanen briefly. Andrew Thompson’s simple yet deliberate lighting design complements Shaplin’s projections and creates some unique, picturesque moments through side-lighting.

Mary Tuomanen. Photo courtesy FringeArts.
Mary Tuomanen. Photo courtesy FringeArts.

Tuomanen draws parallels between the lives and deaths of Joan of Arc and Fred Hampton. “Some people peak young,” she quips. It is a eulogy to young revolutionaries that have gone before our time, and a reflection on how Tuomanen’s own efforts to fight the power. Is she ineffective in hard situations, she muses? Is she, like Hamlet, wasting time through theatre and ignoring calls to action?

Hello! Sadness! has a short run, so if you are looking to see some great protest theatre in Philadelphia, you don’t want to miss this.

Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes, with no intermission.

Hello! Sadness! plays through January 28, 2017 at FringeArts – 140 North Columbus Boulevard, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.