Died in a Trailer Park/Woke Up a Mermaid is a perfect title for Ariel Pinkerton’s storytelling show, a series of autobiographical tales that marry dark themes with bright optimism. According to her suite of stories, Pinkerton navigated homelessness, drug use, sexual abuse, her mother’s mental disorder and more over the course of her early life. But her recollections all have a wry smile to them.
She narrates from a position of strength, resilience and sometimes nostalgia. The person who “died in a trailer park” turns out to be an earlier form of her identity, a common theme running through the show — not so much “who am I?” as “let me tell you how I became who I am.”
Pinkerton isn’t asking, she’s telling, but with confidence, not force. Whether she is describing a turbulent period in her life, such as when an older man took advantage of her as a school-age girl or simply narrating a few challenging days, such as when a mistaken ferry dropped her in the wrong country, her lessons are about what she experienced, not how these moments defined her.
Her writing is strong, her stories are engaging, and her delivery is natural. My only complaint is about the fact that Pinkerton, an established professional storyteller, as she tells us at the top of the show, refers to a script throughout her recorded performance. She doesn’t read from it exactly, only occasionally flips pages and lets her eyes dart from her otherwise direct stare. Her stories are so personal and genuine that these moments of broken eye contact detract from the performance. It seems an unnecessary crutch, as it seems she knows the material cold, and she delivers the words organically.
In her introduction, Pinkerton addresses the unseen audience and calls this recorded version of Died in a Trailer Park/Woke Up a Mermaid a “pale imitation” of the live storytelling experience, which, while probably true, sells her show a bit short. Whether or not we can share the room, we can still enjoy the dark humor of these stories and the chin-up attitude of the woman telling them.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival takes place June 4-19. For more information, show descriptions, a schedule and tickets, visit cincyfringe.com.