Dark comedy is the sort of inspiration needed in this challenging political climate, and “Hello! Sadness!” is a stirring performance that serves as a fitting antidote. Mary Tuomanen’s solo FringeArts play takes revolutionaries like Joan of Arc and Fred Hampton for inspiration on how to be both an artist and an activist.
Tuomanen carries “Hello! Sadness!” into complex aspects of intersectional activism and honest artistic expression. Since its first run at the Kimmel Center in 2015, both the play and Tuomanen have evolved, but the growth in awareness and confidence did not bud in a straight line. She questioned her contribution to art and the significance of the story she wanted to tell. Does she have the right words and the courage to be an activist? Is “Hello! Sadness!” resonating with people unlike her?
It borrows from Hampton of the Black Panther Party and actress/activist Jean Seberg. Both Hampton and Seberg took great strides for the advancement of marginalized groups in America, and ultimately, both were victims of the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Project. “You think of the Black Panther Party as being separatists but it was about bringing people together,” Tuomanen said in an interview. “These people were galvanizing and they were murdered. How do we go forward when we know the message will lead us inevitably to death?” She promptly offered a chilling response: “People die, but revolutions don’t.”
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A play like “Hello! Sadness!” isn’t simply an admiration of historic figures. Instead, it’s a scouring of the self. How can one relate to people’s actions in history and then emulate that behavior in their own way?
Tuomanen moved away from cliches of Joan of Arc being a vulnerable, tearful woman. “Joan without her armor is not Joan,” Tuomanen said. “She sees herself as a soldier, not a meek girl.” Writing her in a different light was arduous, but it helped Tuomanen grow. Meanwhile, the Trayvon Martin verdict happened and unrest ruffled Ferguson, and the events rippled all the way to Tuomanen’s core. “You can’t write a play like this without considering what was happening to black people,” Tuomanen says. “Their freedoms and their bodies were being assaulted. What armor do we need to put on to be the best allies? Could all our fights be reunited as one fight?”
“Hello! Sadness!” will take a deep, brave look at what it means to be an activist when the show runs Jan. 26-28 at FringeArts’ waterfront headquarters, 140 N. Columbus Blvd. Tickets cost between $14 and $20 and are available by phone at 215-413-1318 or online at fringearts.com.