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PREVIEW: A Theatrical Double Header: Based On / A True Story (Southern Theater)

Aidan Jane Gallivan and Hailey Cowell in a promotional photo for The Critic and the Drama Queen.

If you follow the Twin Cities theatre scene, September sees an astonishing number of show openings each year. October, despite a slew Halloween and horror-themed events, is relatively quiet. Then, as the leaves vanish from the trees, November rushes in with a new avalanche of shows before the holiday crush. Two of these open tonight at the Southern Theater in the double-header Based On / A True Story.

Based On / A True Story is the name of a combined program of two plays: Fadeaway Girl by Rachel Petrie and The Critic and the Drama Queen by Hailey Cowell. Unusually, the event is a collaboration between two different theatre companies: Raw Sugar (Fadeaway Girl) and Theatre Corrobora (The Critic and the Drama Queen).

How did this pairing come to be? “Jenny Moeller from Raw Sugar and Hailey Colwell from Theatre Corrobora were both working at The Southern when a slot in the season opened up,” said Theatre Corrobora producer Aidan Jhane Gallivan. “While discussing what could best fill that time, they realized that their company missions really complemented one another.”

The original “Fadeaway Girl” illustration created by C. Coles Phillips for the January 27, 1910 issue of Life Magazine. The figure doubly blends into the background – the robin’s blue dress matches up with the general background, and the model’s flesh tones disappear against the wrapping paper on the table. This feeling of invisibility or fading into the background is cited by many people suffering from mental illness.
A fadeaway girl-style illustration by C. Coles Phillips, created for a 1921 issue of Life Magazine. Note how the subject’s black dress blends into the black background.

Fadeaway Girl is the work of Rachel Petrie, a Four Humors Theater alum who wrote and stars in this autobiographical play about two (!) bipolar diagnoses, the stigma of mental illness, and more. The title is a reference to the famous style of illustration developed by C. Coles Phillips, in which a subject (usually female) blends into the background. Although the fadeaway style was most popular in the early 20th century, it has more recently been revived and adapted by visual artists suffering from mental illness. The show’s marketing copy promises pirates, aliens, loss, lists, and reality vs. perceived reality.

The Critic and the Drama Queen is in some ways a spiritual follow-up to The Critic and the Concubine, a play that Cowell wrote while a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. That play, which was produced at the 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival, starred Aidan Jhane Gallivan as an irate film star and Joe Allen as the critic who aroused her ire. This time around, Gallivan returns as the titular drama queen and Cowell dons the mantle of critic, performing a script inspired in part by events in their shared past.

“In the original telling [The Critic and the Drama Queen],” said Gallivan, “we saw an 1950s actress confront a critic for a nasty review that he has written about her latest (terrible) movie. What followed were several lengthy discussions about the value of hard work and creating art, the lasting effect of critique, and the struggles of women in the entertainment industry.”

“This new version [The Critic and the Drama Queen] uses roughly the same situation… The events of this [new] play are less about what happens after the review is written, and more focused on why the review happens in the first place – and the collateral damages that come along with that action.”

A promotional poster for the theatrical double-header event Based On / A True Story, which opens tonight at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, MN.

Based On / A True Story in Minneapolis, MN, and plays through November 19.

Twin Cities Arts Reader