The last time Cleveland playwright and actor David Hansen took a one-man show to the New York Fringe Festival in 2004, it was with his autobiographical tale about the stillbirth of his son, I Hate This.
Several people suggested at the time — much to Hansen's irritation — that he consider a more uplifting sequel about his daughter. Eventually he did, and that's what he's taking back to the Big Apple for Fringe Fest 2009. The new play — And Then You Die: How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years — takes up an ecosystem of subject matter having to do with middle age, fatherhood and mortality. He's booked for five performances in four days, starting August 19, at the Robert Moss Theatre. To get it in shape for the Fringe Fest stage, he's doing a trial run at Cleveland Public Theatre's Parish Hall this weekend. Alison Garrigan directs.
And Then You Die is the story of Pengo, a fictional cartoonist Hansen uses as a stand-in for himself. It spans Hansen's life from 1980, when he ran his first race, to 2006, when he ran the New York City marathon. The play grew out of blog entries he wrote while training. (His blog is at daddyrunsfast.com). The multi-media show incor-porates original art by Cat R. Kenney as Pengo's cartoons. Hansen gave the play's world premiere as part of CPT's Big [BOX] series earlier this year.
The marathon serves as the play's setting. As Pengo runs, he considers his life — his relationships, his aging body, his career and his role as father. Out of a random pastiche of thought and memory, themes emerge about his own distracted father. It's a much more life-affirming story than I Hate This, and by the end, Pengo realizes that his commitment to his daughter is the most important thing in his life, and that training is a way to keep his life as long and healthy as possible. "Running to me is pushing back against death," he explains.