Sunday, August 12, 2012

FringeNYC 16: Immaculate Degeneration

I hate the idea that one person shows, or one woman shows in particular, are in need of any sort of special pleading, but I find that is so often the case. I like seeing people tell their stories and the stories of others, lives as led and adventures taken and embarked upon, both fictional and true, hilarious and heart-rending and all stops in between. And it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog, that the lives of American teenage girls are of endless interest to this particular critic.

Pamela Sabaugh's Immaculate Degeneration hit me on a lot of those levels. I share with her a suburban/urban punk rock girlhood (mine in NYC, hers in Detroit), the need for escape and the wanting of better things common to most artists of all stripes.  The great thing that distinguishes Sabaugh's journey to independence in these United States as an artist, is her partial blindness, caused by a congenital disorder (juvenile macular degeneration) which presented itself in Junior High. She talks about how the onset of blindness interfered with her social life, her schoolwork, and her badass-ery. And most movingly, about how it limited her freedom, about growing up in the motor city unable to drive. 

Sabaugh's story, like all deeply personal stories worth telling, is bigger than herself. She tells about growing up in a subdivision in which pedestrians are viewed with suspicion. About a decaying city in thrall to the almighty automobile, in the epicenter of the public transportation-free rust belt. Her visual impairment made her dependent on others in a way that was both humiliating and sometimes dangerous (having a friend wander off with a guitarist at a local rock fest when the bus never shows). For her, moving to NYC meant not only artistic freedom, but having a true personal autonomy. She has a song about the MTA that actually made me cry. Her songs and voice are are lovely. I was really hoping there would be a CD in the press kit as I would have immediately loaded them onto my ipod.

Mostly, this is a joyful piece of work. Sabaugh is a delightful person to spend 90 minutes with, and in the spirit of full journalistic disclosure, I have to say that I do know Pamela, and her director/husband Fred Backus has long been a friend and a collaborator on various projects throughout the years. I'm not certain if Fred has directed before, but Immaculate Degeneration hits that really difficult balance of being both really tight (there's nothing I would cut, and I almost never say that, friends or not), yet being loose and casual enough that you feel a part of the event in a really nice way.

Pamela has had a lot of challenges, but for my money, her considerable gifts, both personal and artistic have enabled her to embrace them and allow them to inform but not define who she as as both a person and an artist. A very difficult balancing act, which it was my pleasure to watch her not only achieve, but transcend, with grace.

Immaculate Degeneration (click for tickets)
Woodward Avenue Productions
Writer: Pamela Sabaugh
Director: Fred Backus
The Huron Club, 15 Vandam St.
Remaining Performances: Tue 14 @ 4pm, Sat 18 @ 1:45,  Sun 19 @ 7pm,  Wed 22 @ 4:30