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“Do you ever feel like—” twist, contort, jerk, spin. “Like—” hinge, skip, lurch. These are the questions a kid (Mehgan Abdel-Moneim) poses to the audience in Magic Trash Day, a Fringe show at the Liberty Lands amphitheater. She’s been feeling a big sort of feeling, and, as a kid, she’s been feeling it forever. Yesterday. The day before that. And the day after both those days. Forever.
Stumped and frustrated, she plops down to read, and hardly notices when Sadness (Marsell Anhel-Chavarria) slips into her room, wearing an understated aquamarine blue jumpsuit, sparkly disco-ball earring, and clown nose. Sadness wants her attention: the character leans over her shoulder, steals her book, then returns it upside down. The hijinks continue, but unable to perceive Sadness, the kid’s only explanation is that these things must be happening because today is clearly the worst day ever.
At a loss, Sadness takes the protagonist to the trash chute which, as it turns out, is a secret entrance to the Dumps—a land rivaling Philadelphia for discarded wrappers, plastic bags, old toothbrushes, and half-eaten breakfast sandwiches. It’s here that our kid meets Heap (Bellisant Corcoran-Mathe): “I’m a Heap / I take all the things you don’t want to think about / like feelings and spoons and receipts.” With Heap’s help, the young protagonist is able to recognize Sadness.
As our kid says goodbye to her newfound friends and comes back out of the Dumps, she brings back a stuffed animal, a pinwheel, and audience suggestions about what might prevent another trip all the way down to the Dumps (at a Saturday, September 16, performance, this included drawing, sleep, and three audience members of varying ages who find solace in eggs).
Setting physical and emotional stages
The play’s two settings are created with just a few props, costumes, and sound mixing, all by Abdel-Moneim. At the beginning, props give just the barest sign of a wider world beyond the kid’s bedroom, and include her book entitled I Have Feelings, some coloring pages and markers, her backpack, and a deck of cards. It’s an archetypal kid’s room that’s recognizable but avoids backstory, without mention of how she has such a book, where she’s arriving home from, or who’s braided her hair. The play is about a kid, and adult members in the audience just have to unconditionally accept the same things kids take for granted.
This initial spartan stage contrasts the world of the Dumps. With the simple addition of a colorful painted backdrop and a few trash bags of shredded paper and packing peanuts, the Dumps overflow with relative abundance and chaos. Add to that the gregarious Heap, decoupaged with Bounty packaging and shredded Target bags, and suddenly the psycho-emotional landscape feels fit to burst.
Complex feelings kept simple
To its benefit, the story sticks to a simplified hero’s journey into the Dumps and back. Corcoran-Mathe’s performance of Heap brings life to a curious and humorous mentor, and Sadness is a puckish presence that provides charming dramatic irony appreciated by other kids in the audience (“Really? She can’t see him?” marveled a five-year-old at the Saturday performance.)
For adults, the spectacle is as much watching kids’ reception of the play, but the skilled physicality of the performers adds a fresh twist to everyday experiences. Sadness can be big or small, and Anhel-Chavarria effortlessly explodes and contracts while delivering the lines. There’s tumbling, synchronized acrobatics, and a convincingly arduous journey across the sticky floor of the Dumps. The otherworldly moves and contemporary dance numbers animated by Abdel-Moneim and Anhel-Chavarria bring irresistible artistry and movement.
With a run time of approximately 45 minutes, Magic Trash Day is creative, endearing, and well-performed.
Because of an earlier rain cancelation, there is an additional performance on Sunday, September 24, at 4pm.
What, When, Where
Magic Trash Day. By Mehgan Abdel-Moneim, Marsell Anhel-Chavarria, and Bellisant Corcoran-Mathe, music by Chris Sannino; directed by Lillian Ransijn and Dylan Smythe. Free (donations accepted). Through September 24, 2023, at Liberty Lands, 913 N 3rd Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or phillyfringe.org.
Liberty Lands is a fully outdoor venue accessed via grass and uneven terrain and may be inaccessible or challenging for mobility devices.
This event does not require proof of vaccination to attend or masks to be worn.
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