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  • Writer's pictureFrank Schierloh

FRINGE REVIEW: Birth. Sparkle. Death. (Cannonball Festival, Philadelphia)

One Performer's Experience with Her Epilepsy Diagnosis.


"Who's left when you can't be everything that you were told you were?" This is one of the running themes of the solo show Birth. Sparkle. Death., which explores the complex journey of its star and writer Hannah Parke, in a retrospective through her diagnosis with epilepsy, and subsequent surgeries to try to help alleviate her disability. Solo shows are tough work, especially when they are extremely personal, but once Parke settles into the show, the audience is brought into her pain and strength in intimate detail as she recounts how she navigated a diagnosis no one expects to receive.

Performer Hannah Parke in a scene from Birth. Sparkle. Death.
Hannah Parke in Birth. Sparkle. Death. Photo by Shamus

A Personal Evening

Hannah is your "basic, white, ingenue bitch;" she is then diagnosed with epilepsy. Birth. Sparkle. Death. engages with Hannah's journey through the stages of grief that she experiences as she comes to terms with how her life changes moving forward. The script weaves in original songs, intimate storytelling and video projections as we see what it looks like for someone who is processing life altering news. The show serves as the authors' reclamation of her life, as she mourns the person she once was, and allows herself to become the person she is now.

A solo show is only as strong as the performer, and Hannah is a charming, aloof character who is able to grasp your attention from the moment she starts singing. In recounting her story, she cleverly showcases her strengths, using a quirky energy that allows for her to talk about some harrowing experiences with a conversational attitude. I'll admit, the start of the show came off as rather performative, with a lot of the beats ringing slightly hollow, almost like Hannah didn't want to allow this story to be too close to her. Then there was a moment, roughly halfway through the show, where the performative veneer eases, and we see Hannah as who she truly is: a young woman struggling to find herself after her world has changed. From this point on, the show becomes engrossing, and Hannah takes the audience along through her continued journey of acceptance.


Some Hits and Misses

The show is a multimedia experience, with all of the musical numbers having accompanying videos. While they have striking imagery throughout, they tend to distract more than add to the performance, and occasionally feel a tad cliché. There doesn't seem to be much cohesion between the lyrics and the imagery, which makes it difficult to focus on either. Hannah is an amazing vocalist though, and while the songs may not be the most memorable, she sings them all with demonstrative gusto and impressive skill.

Hannah partnered with director Shamus to work on this piece, and it is definitely a pair well suited to one another. Shamus utilizes the space well, allowing the audience to feel close to the piece and also relaxed, with the set up of couches and daybeds to sit on. His staging is simple, and clearly collaborative with Hannah: the movements seem natural, with only a couple of over the top prat falls that feel slightly out of place. The pacing of the show is very fast, and while there were a few moments that I think could benefit from some breath and pausing, there were never moments that felt like they dragged on for too long, or at all.

Hannah Parke in the production of Birth. Sparkle. Death.
Hannah Parke in Birth. Sparkle. Death. Photo by Shamus

Fringe it Up

The Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and the Cannonball Festival are both about exploring new ways of storytelling and new engaging stories. Hannah's is a story of acceptance and growth, allowing the audience to grapple with our own mortality as we watch her do the same. It's messy at times, overly polished in others, but overall: honest and raw. It doesn't paint the world in a sharp contrast, it blurs, and in that blurring tells a very modern story about the grief of losing the person you thought you were.


Small Cartoon link to tickets


Birth. Sparkle. Death. is on Stage at The Fidget Space 1714 N. Mascher St from now until September 18th.


For more information visit: https://phillyfringe.org/events/birth-sparkle-death/

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