The Pink Hulk – Fuck Cancer
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
You guys. This week, I needed a fucking American hero. And I found one. And her name is Valerie David.
Valerie David got cancer not once, but twice. In 1999, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and, after fifteen years cancer-free, with breast cancer in 2014. She has suffered through sleepless, lonely nights, smug doctors who say things like “Your body just makes cancer” (to which I would say, this woman’s body breaks cancer) and treatments that stole her hair and her self-confidence. But Valerie David does not give in to despair. Instead, she takes her experiences, washes them, and hangs them out to dry in her one-woman show, The Pink Hulk, now showing as part of the Charm City Fringe Festival.
To begin with, David is hilarious. A long-time improv comic, she knows how to make a joke and hug a beat, something that director Padraic Lillis plays to the hilt. How do you not crack up when she tells you that she’s named her wig “Dusty Woodbourne” after her first dog and the street that she lived on as a kid? She’s hilarious, warm, and incredibly sexy (I loved the bit at the beginning about crashing into the biggest hunk she’s ever slept with via inner tube). As she recounts and reforms pieces of her life right in front of us, it’s like sitting at the table with your favorite, sharpest, funniest girlfriend. Right away, you feel her love for the audience, her ache for our solidarity, her instance on getting fucking real. She’s powerful, and powerfully grounded, spreading her feet into a equilateral triangle, defiantly proclaiming herself not just our hero, but her own.
David also shows us the shattering, undignified truth about cancer; the humiliation of lying on a cold table on a Styrofoam wedge as poisonous rays eradicate a part of you that ain’t ever coming back. Anxiously asking your lovers if they can tell that one breast is bigger and darker than the other. Using every tool in your human arsenal to detect slight changes in a doctor’s expression, in their vocal modulation. Feeling alone. Feeling weak. Feeling forgotten, cast off by friends who should have been there. She doesn’t spare us. This is no “save the ta-tas” cutesy fucking crap. This stuff is hard. And, what is unspoken but there in every line, is that not everyone comes back. Not everyone who fights wins.
Pandora’s box had a lot of bullshit inside of it, but there was also hope. That’s what had me tearing up at The Pink Hulk. Sometimes, really, really bad things happen, things that you can’t control, despite your best efforts. Sometimes, you campaign, rally, fight, believe….and a racist, sexist demagogue still wins The White House (it’s hard not to feel the political echoes in David’s words, especially “breast cancer attacked me as a woman,” a lot of art right now has become suddenly, shockingly relevant). Sometimes you work out, eat right, do the best you can, and you still get cancer. David gives us this in the face of uncertainty and fear: you do have a choice. You can choose to fight. You can choose to live, for as long as you can. You can choose to make art. You can choose to make love. There is always hope. And sometimes, there is only hope.
BOTTOM LINE: The Pink Hulk is a triumphant, crazily fucking uplifting tonic for the pain that I’m feeling and Valerie David is a goddess. It is a screamingly funny, shockingly genuine beam of light into the long, dark hallway that is cancer. I’m with her. I’m with all the hers.
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