Dare to dream of motherhood

Philly Fringe 2022: Josephine Decker and Pig Iron Theatre Company present The Path of Pins or the Path of Needles

2 minute read
Yelland, in an open plaid button-down, stands smiling with arms spread in a grassy yard. Two breast pumps hang from her chest

Every performance of The Path of Pins or the Path of Needles starts at 6:45pm sharp, thanks to the precise timing of the creative team that transforms Germantown’s Rigby Mansion and grounds into an ethereal dreamlike space. Inspired by the extensive research of Maria Tatar, renowned scholar of folklore and fairy tales, this production investigates the fictional and realized conflicts between mother and daughter. Josephine Decker and Pig Iron Theatre Company take it one step backwards to the experience of pregnancy: where do those fears and terrors begin?

In line with Pig Iron’s previous Fringe productions, like Superterranean (2019) and Love Unpunished (2021), this stunning work of immersive physical theater is a collaborative ensemble work. Decker unpacks the uniqueness of female experiences through magical realism, complementing Pig Iron’s strengths in ensemble practice. Each audience participant, described by the performers as a “pregnant dreamer,” chooses to enter the show by one of two pathways, considering how best to protect their imagined pregnancy. Audiences quickly learn that the only way to escape the curse on their child is to collect garlic, an apple, and the name of the mother’s first child. Nervous chuckles move through the crowd as they disperse to undertake the quest as they explore the installation.

Complex decisions

The simultaneous scenes of the performance borrow from fictional, real, and imagined experiences of mothers and children. Numerous references to literature, film, folklore, and pop culture are embedded within the show, providing context for its disparate contemporary dance and physical theater elements. In a series of haunting moments, performers seamlessly move through different roles—mothers become children, allies become adversaries.

While the various scenes of performance art largely speak to the complex decisions made in pregnancy and childrearing, there is an underlying thread around cycles within these life stages. Birth and death are intimately connected processes, which historically and presently have been brought to the forefront in pregnancy. With deepening complexity, the emotions of grief and love, fear and hope drive how we make decisions to process and understand the beginning and end of life.

A dark, resonant fairy tale

In this show, as in life, there is no one experience, or even two divergent paths, despite the title’s suggestion. Participants can instead move throughout the indoor and outdoor spaces, guided by performers or their own interest. Some experiences may be encouraged or discouraged by performers, but most spaces within the installation are free to roam and interpret as you wish.

The performance moves so quickly that I barely noticed the transition from day to night until directed to the exit. As I left Rigby Mansion, I was still clutching my garlic clove, turning it over in my hand as I contemplated the events of the evening. This dark fairytale sits with audiences long after it’s finished.

What, When, Where

The Path of Pins or the Path of Needles. By Josephine Decker and Pig Iron Theatre Company, directed by Decker and Dan Rothenberg. $37. Through October 2, 2022, at Rigby Mansion, 523 Church Lane, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.

Masks and proof of Covid-19 vaccination are required.


Much of the performance installation is outdoors on uneven ground. Organizers can accommodate patrons with limited mobility; contact Patron Services at Fringe Arts ahead of your performance night. Participation is optional, and audience members may choose to opt out of physical interaction with performers.

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