Robin Marcotte in Dottie
(Photo © Blake Martin)
Robin Marcotte in Dottie
(Photo © Blake Martin)
A young man dressed as an older woman lifts imaginary objects off the ground and imagines seeing people in empty mirrors. While this might sound like an absurdist examination of illusion versus reality, it's actually a description of a scene in Robin Marcotte's one-man show Dottie.

This examination of Marcotte's grandmother's 10-year struggle with dementia is now playing at the Berkshire Fringe Festival. Marcotte had to begin looking after her when he was just 10 years old, and he brings many of his memories to life through storytelling, physical theater, and mask work. The show also features projections of him with his family, taken during his gradmother's illness.

When Dottie debuted in Philadelphia, home base for the presenting theater company Hotel Obligado, it provoked some strong reactions. One striking image that resonated with members of Marcotte's family was his first entrance as his grandmother while actual footage of her was projected onto a screen. For some friends of the family, the experience of the play was so powerful that everyone was silent when they went out to dinner with Marcotte after the show. Eventually, somebody revealed that his mother was herself suffering a heightened case of dementia.

"It's pretty intense," says Marcotte "People are nervous to talk about the subject, don't know much about it, or don't want to seem incorrect about their knowledge." Indeed, one of Marcotte's goals in creating and performing the show is to raise awareness and to make such conversations easier.

-- A.K.

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Eric Ray Anderson and Sharia Pierce
in Mitzi's Abortion
(Photo © Chris Bennion)
Eric Ray Anderson and Sharia Pierce
in Mitzi's Abortion
(Photo © Chris Bennion)
Elizabeth Heffron's new play Mitzi's Abortion, now receiving its world premiere at the ACT Theatre in Seattle, has a deliberately provocative title. Hefron originally called her play Mitzi's Choice, but she decided to change it after thinking that the word "choice" sounded too euphemistic. She recalls asking herself, "Why can't I use the word abortion?"

The play was inspired by an actual story in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Mitzi (played by Sharia Pierce) finds out late in her pregnancy that her fetus is anencephalitic -- i.e., that it does not have a cortex. Such fetuses do not have any sensory capabilities during gestation and cannot survive more than a few hours after birth. While many women decide to terminate their pregnancies in these cases, it's difficult for Mitzi to do so because her husband is a soldier serving in the Middle East and military laws prohibit the use of insurance money for abortions.

"I really didn't want it to be a 'movie of the week,'" says Heffron. This accounts for her use of such theatrical devices as Mitzi experiencing visions of St. Thomas Aquinas throughout the play. (The audience first sees him lounging in a massaging chair from The Sharper Image.) A 17th-century Scottish midwife named Reckless Mary also visits Mitzi and tells her how pregnancy was treated 400 years ago. "Historically, women took care of women," Heffron notes. "The AMA and doctors had nothing to do with gynecological issues until about 200 years ago."

The play's humor helps audiences ingest its serious historical, legal, and social themes, so the message comes through loud and clear. After one performance, a man whose wife had dragged him to the show walked up to Heffron and said, "You wrote an abortion play for a 55-year old man." One couple that had been in a similar situation told her that the play helped them start talking about the incident after a seven-year silence. "I was just floored by that," Heffron says. "It was the best thing I could possibly hope for with the piece."

-- A.K.

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Josh Hoover and Richard Banden
in The People's Pinocchio

(Photo © Jeremy Lawson)
Josh Hoover and Richard Banden
in The People's Pinocchio
(Photo © Jeremy Lawson)
Nearly everyone knows the story of Pinocchio as told by Disney, but relatively few are familiar with Carlo Collodi's original story, upon which the movie was based. "I was shocked by what I found," says Andrew Park, who has adapted and directed The People's Pinocchio for the Quest Theatre Ensemble in Chicago. "It's empowering and complex, even disturbing -- more in tune with Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland."

Collodi originally ended his tale, initially published as a magazine serial, with Pinocchio being hung upon a great oak tree by the cat and the fox. Says Park, "It wasn't until there was complete outrage from the readers who had fallen in love with Pinocchio that Collodi expanded a character he had introduced just a few pages before the hanging: the Blue Fairy. We've included the hanging in our show as the turning point where Pinocchio begins to realize the error of his ways, the fact that he hasn't been truthful. His realization is not as didactic as learning not to tell lies, but is more in line with the pursuit of ultimate truth and enlightenment."

Indeed, Park sees many parallels between Pinocchio's journey and that of the Buddha, and has emphasized these in his production: "The Buddha's father initially keeps him locked away; he doesn't want the world to influence his son because he loves him so much. But a friend sneaks the Buddha out into the world and he sees a dying person, then a sick person, then a dead person. He realizes there's a lot more to life, and he runs out on his own. The same thing happens to Pinocchio."

The People's Pinocchio, which is billed as appropriate for all ages, uses large-scale puppetry, stilt-walking, live music, and other techniques. Like all of Quest's shows, it is presented to the public free of charge. "We operate completely by donation and have done very, very well," says Park. "We think the second you put a price tag on art, you start to exclude people -- and we just don't agree with that."

-- D.B.