We live in an ever shifting world, with things once considered “oddity” suddenly constituting “normality”. It’s the very change that we see permeating our “big topic” discussions. People struggle to use correct pronouns. Topics once taboo to polite society are now mentioned openly, almost casually in conversation. The world continues to spin towards a new normal.
This light-hearted set of two one-acts poses important questions concerning the nature of change, notably: What is “normal”?
Magic for Beginners, written by Natalie Piegari, gives us a brief glimpse into the life of three high school girls gathered for an “Anti-prom”. Set in Jubilee’s (Sydney Lawson) the basement, we meet Harper (played by Piegari), and Darling (Jackie Madejski), who likewise have chosen to spend time away from one of the most traditional high school events. The plan is to cast a hex on the popular Bianca, who, by Harper’s description, is just the worst. Like, the Regina George kind of worst. As a Kahlua and Coke fueled foray into the dark arts, one has to wonder what could possibly go wrong?
After a fun interlude of costume and set changes, fueled by the three performers, we enter the world of Normal Sea, created by Sam Mauceri. Lily and Erin (played by Piegari and Lawson), a same-sex couple find themselves with a surprise pregnancy. “Surprise” doesn’t quite encapsulate the situation…as it’s an “immaculate sea lion conception”, which is just as bizarre and weirdly delightful as it sounds.
Both plays are gentle glimpses into the lives of these women, and that in itself is refreshing and nice. Playwrights Piegari and Mauceri build worlds where people encounter magical changes that disrupt their sense of normal. Both plays poke fun at the conventions of the world, whether they be an oppressive system that dictates expectations of behavior, and the reactionary system that rebels against it. Somewhere at the heart of this show, the plays are asking us to not take ourselves so very seriously – that every day there’s a new sense of normal, whether it be the beginning of a new relationship, the possession of your friend’s body by the spirit of a male fruit bat, or the impending birth of your Sea Lion child.
Written b y Sam Mauceri and Natalie Piegari
Details and tickets
Staged in MLK Library’s A-9 room, in a tiny makeshift stage with just the bare minimum of tech, it felt like a lucky collision of piece and venue. The director’s notes mention “Serendipity”, regarding the conception of the show, and it seems that Spitball Theatre could not have landed with a more fitting venue for the two worlds they create. The stage seemed absolutely perfect for Magic’s little basement anti-prom, with its cinderblock walls and a few furnishings. Once the stage could be established as a domicile, with the help of an announced and staged interlude for costume and set changes, it became easy to follow along to wherever Normal Sea needed to go. David Allison’s simple light design, working with nothing more than four lighting fixtures, manages to adequately transport us between scenes. The space itself is quite small, and please do not make the same mistake I did by sitting near the giant fan; I found myself having trouble hearing a lot of the show.
Lawson, Madjeski, and Piegari are all enjoyable, talented performers, each capable of deftly shifting and defining different characters. They embody their roles with lightness and fun, imbuing the performances with an airy, magical quality. Yet, for me, I got the sense that they were more focused on the quirks and ticks of the characters, rather than giving us a sense of overall growth and change. I found myself asking…how have these characters changed as a result of their brief journeys? Where did they begin and where did they end? Thus, it felt like despite their light-hearted forays through the theatrical air, they never quite seem to land. Many lines felt recited, rather than lived in. Moments that should perhaps be more grounded seem to miss their mark.
Perhaps that’s the point of the piece, though, asking us not to get too bogged down in what is “supposed to be” by letting us focus on things as they are. In that regard, the shoestring budget show asks us to forego the pretension of what we think a play about queer women, fruit bats, and sea lions should be, and just enjoy what’s in front of you.
I’m so very lucky in my personal Fringe experience so far to continue to witness shows with complex and delightful women, especially LGBT women. It feels as if we’ve evolved as an artistic culture, no longer happy to have a character’s sole identity in a show be based upon their sexuality. This show is a fun reminder that it should not be groundbreaking to present such characters, rather, that this should be our new theatrical norm.
Check out Normal/Magic at MLK Library.It’s rough around the edges and a bit unpolished, but that seems to add to its charm. It’s no spectacle. It’s nothing showy. It’s just the sort of piece that defines what I think a Fringe show should be. These wonderful ladies have taken some fun concepts, and shown us a little slice of the world, with just the touch of magic to mix up our mundane.
Normal/Magic . Playwrights: Natalie Piegari & Sam Mauceri . Directors: Sam Mauceri and Riley Bartlebaugh . Cast: Natalie Piegari, Jackie Madejski, Sydney Lawson . Lighting Design: David Allison . Stage Manager: Ashley Lyles . Produced by Spitball Theatre . Reviewed by Jon Jon Johnson.