There is much ado about stories these days. Commercial brands, hipster startups, politicians and Snapchatters alike work to find a relatable, timeless human story to reel us in. You would think that theater, even the Fringe-y sort, would be a place to study Story 101 — strange lands, desire, conflict, connection... the basics. Not necessarily.
Enter Paul Strickland. After several unsuccessful attempts to be part of the Cincinnati Fringe, he finally arrived in 2013 with his one-man Ain't True and Uncle False. Audiences loved his tales of trailer park life and gave him a “Pick of the Fringe” award.
Three years, many new works and a move to Northern Kentucky later, he has written and directed My Left Teeth, featuring the equally delightful Annie Kalahurka and Miranda McGee. McGee plays an uptight niece of the recently deceased Aunt Yvonne, known to her through family tall-tales only as a weirdo hoarder. She meets Kalahurka, a local woman who not only knew Yvonne as Peggy, but also adored every single odd thing about her. The women begin to negotiate the terms of the journey they will take together as they enter Peggy/Yvonne’s house to piece together a dead woman’s identity while coming to terms with their own.
Kalahurka is flat-out hilarious as she inhabits Strickland county: small-town Southern, quirky, honorable. McGee is incredibly moving as the lonely Northerner, living outside her own family despite her best attempts to connect. As they come to know Peggy/Yvonne through a videotape she left them, her story becomes their story. We learn about “She,” the orphaned outsider in all of us, who juggles life’s knives and tries to find family where she can.
There were a few theatrical bumps in Strickland’s first play that does not feature him as a performer. The poetic video vignettes might have landed more in the here-and-now story. Strickland’s stories are so evocative, and your brain wants to rest in them to find meaning. There is an emotional transition where Kalahurka’s anger and McGee’s sudden ease seem jarring.
That does not take away from the power of My Left Teeth. You will most certainly laugh. If you have buried a loved one and been tasked with an estate, no matter how ragged, you might find yourself moved to tears. That’s the beauty of good storytelling. We are all “She.” We might not paint our window panes or juggle knives, but we want what she wants: home, family, to be known.