Think of it as a tiny little pre-Thanksgiving Fringe Festival.
Before the sugar rush of holiday theater begins, a diptych of smart and appealing one-act plays at the Southern Theater is offering more substantive food for thought. Based On/A True Story comprises Rachel Petrie's (nearly) solo show Fadeaway Girl, paired with Theatre Corrobora's The Critic and the Drama Queen. One ticket covers both acts, each running about an hour.
Petrie is a theater artist familiar from numerous local shows by companies including Dangerous Productions, Live Action Set, and Four Humors. In Fadeaway Girl, she steps forward with an autobiographical piece directed by Keely Wolter under the auspices of Raw Sugar. The subject is mental illness, which in Petrie's case has been diagnosed as bipolar disorder and depression.
It's a single story, but not a connected narrative. Instead, Petrie presents a series of vignettes that shed light on different aspects of her experience, from the challenges of talking about her illness to the way it feels to stand on a bridge and know that people have jumped. That's not the same thing as planning to jump, she notes...but against a projection of flowing water, she describes just standing there and knowing that others have jumped, perhaps understanding why.
It's a very serious subject, but Petrie injects a lot of good humor and physical inventiveness. There are frequent changes of costume, and a soundtrack including songs by Patsy Cline, James Brown (heard during a scene in which Petrie tries to sort of boogie her way up out of bed), and Radiohead. Musician John Hilsen amusingly appears just in time to take the keyboard for an elegant climax that involves a mirrorball, a sparkly dress, and a bit of singing that reminds us why sad songs, sometimes, feel so good.
Theatre Corrobora's Hailey Colwell is a playwright, actor, and — not incidentally — critic. She's specialized in stories sparked by her own experience, much of which, both onstage and off, has been shared with her longtime friend and Corrobora collaborator, actor Aidan Jhane Gallivan.
The Critic and the Drama Queen will be a special treat for those who have seen and enjoyed Corrobora's Fringe shows, which started with 2013's The Critic and the Concubine and have continued since, to increasing acclaim. The new play fictionalizes and dramatizes the friendship between Colwell and Gallivan, each of whom plays a version of herself, stretching from high school all the way up to a sort of alternate future.
Ursula Bowden's set makes good use of the Southern's unique proscenium configuration to give each character her own bedroom and door, with a shared living room where they meet to hash over their triumphs and tragedies. "Aidan" struggles to land roles, while "Hailey" digs for the confidence to create her own plays rather than just critiquing others'. Whimsical but dark dream sequences show us how the women see themselves and one another.
The show offers a lot for theater people to chew on, but both artists (who co-created the piece, with a script by Colwell) have an instinct for entertainment and a knack for taking themselves seriously without getting too heavy-handed about it. It's fun to watch the contrast between their personae, with Gallivan vamping around reciting Shakespeare while Colwell curls up and eats Corn Pops.
Based On/A True Story makes for a rewarding and substantive evening, with a little sprinkle of confetti and some incisive mockery of Uptown bros along the way. Add it to your list of productions to be thankful for this year.
IF YOU GO:
Based On/A True Story
7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday