BIG CRUNCH (TOLVA/Sam Congdon): 2016 Fringe review 45

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The primary device in BIG CRUNCH’s theatrical arsenal is repetition. It features a compelling concept, but wields it in a  polarizing way; some of the audience tired of watching the same scenes on repeat and walked out during one performance. The solo sci-fi performance—introduced by creator and performer Sam Congdon as alter-ego TOLVA, a traveling space princess—envisions a future in which cyborgs are trained for menial labor and the fulfilment of rigidly defined traditional gender roles. The cyborg protagonist, Bionic Citizen 108 (TOLVA/Sam Congdon), ultimately rebels against this strict gender enforcement in a triumphant finale somewhat marred by its predictability.

The show introduces BC108’s daily routine: ideological training meant to keep BC108 on one side of a gender binary and an obedient civil servant. Before performing menial work, he receives leisure time to watch ads, one of which explains that cyborgs like BC108 are trained to be ideally masculine suitors for human women (or maybe other cyborgs–it’s never quite clear if fully human people exist in the world). The first time around, the cyborg’s workday is eerie and hypnotically engaging, and Congdon wonderfully portrays a being cautiously trying to become free in the face of deadening de-personalization. The ads are full of sardonic wit, a well-placed comedic interlude. But the process repeats three full times with minimal changes. It works powerfully as a thematic device—the audience feels the merciless repetition of routine and indoctrination that BC108 is subjected to day after day, but as soon as he is tasked with sorting tubes of lipstick into boxes it’s easy to see where it’s all headed, and it really takes its time in getting there.

[AUX Performance Space at Vox Populi Gallery, 319 N 11th Street, Third Floor] September 16-23, 2016; fringearts.com/big-crunch.

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About the author

Tyler Horst

Tyler Horst is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in Philadelphia. He is a regular contributor for JUMP, SPOKE, and Hidden City Philadelphia. His writing has also appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News and the mobile gaming site Hardcore Droid. In 2015, he won an Emmy for his short documentary "Born-Frees in Hip Hop," shot in South Africa. His first movie was a Star Wars fan film he shot on a camcorder at the age of 8, but his cousin tragically taped over it with an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh!. He still hasn't forgiven his cousin for this.