Copyright © 2019 by John L. Sowalsky. All Rights Reserved.

What's in a Name?

May 13, 2019

 

Each year the Capital Fringe Festival, in addition to making use of dedicated theaters, converts various locations into makeshift theater spaces. Some of these end up being fairly cushy. In 2009, my production was housed in the upstairs gallery at the Goethe Institut, an accessible, clean, quiet, air-conditioned space not far from the Festival's headquarters and box office. The previous year I was housed in the Fringe's own "The Shop," which was in every respect the diametric opposite of the Goethe. When we entered The Shop for our tech rehearsal, the venue manager told us that the rats would be out by the end of the week. No one was really sure whether he was kidding or not.

This coming summer, my production will be installed in what promises to be a winning space, housed in the recently-renovated Riverside Baptist Church, close to, of all places, the riverside, in Southwest DC.  It's a Metro-accessible site and should, like the Goethe, be clean, quiet, and well cooled against the swampy swelter of July in the nation's Capital. The Fringe will be constructing a 70-seat theater there, complete with a 3/4 thrust stage, but lacking any substantial backstage area or wings, or a dressing area contiguous with the stage. Storage, we have been told, will be at a premium. These apparent drawbacks are par for the course. This is my sixth Fringe, so I've long since learned to plan around such constraints, and we already have strategies in place for working within them.

There is one curious fact about our venue, however, which has not escaped my notice. Each year, as the Fringe is setting up its ad hoc theater spaces throughout the city, they give them monikers seemingly at random. This year several of the venues are receiving food-related names, and thus it is that the theater in which Passing will appear has been dubbed Pineapple. It has been brought to my attention that the humble, but delicious, pineapple is considered a symbol of welcome, so it makes sense that it would be chosen as the name for a theater which is trying to serve the community at large. For me, however, this name carries a special significance.

Last year at this time I was recovering from quintuple bypass surgery. I had planned to participate in the 2018 Fringe, but when I went under the knife in March of that year, my plans were derailed. I was chagrined, but the Fringe was very gracious, and they encouraged me to apply for the 2019 Festival. The morning after my surgery I felt like something which had been discarded onto the floor of a butcher's shop. I had two drainage tubes protruding from my abdomen; an IV in my carotid artery and another in my arm; wires sticking out of my chest which were connected directly to my heart (just in case!); an oxygen supply strapped to my nose; octopoidal EKG electrodes stuck across my torso; a catheter; and, of course, the dressing covering my various wounds. I was hopped to the gills on painkillers. The nurse handed me a menu and told me I needed to order some solid food.

Food was the very last thing on my mind, but I steeled myself to my doctors' orders and asked for the one thing on the menu I thought I might, just barely, be able to tolerate: a bowl of pineapple. As skeptical as I was of my appetite, sometimes -- believe it or not -- doctors know best. Ten minutes later my breakfast arrived, and when I bit into the first piece of pineapple it was, by an order of magnitude, the most delicious food which has ever passed my lips. It was not simply a bowl of pineapple, it was a bowl full of life itself. It was a bowl of renaissance, of rebirth. It was a bowl of relief, of second chances, of grief assuaged. It brought a tear to my eye. I have since tasted pineapple many times, but it has never tasted so good as it did that morning when I had eluded the Reaper. I knew that I was going to be OK. And although the thought had not yet formed, as such, I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that I would be participating in the 2019 Fringe, because I had received a mandate to present my work to the world.

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