Pittsburgh Fringe 2018
Amanda Miller breathes life into an outstanding cast of melancholic characters all played by herself vying for the ultimate prize in this absurd yet lovable fast-paced game show combining storytelling, physical theatre, dance, and clown at its finest.
Amanda Miller is a gem of a storyteller. I can’t quite express how impressive I found this tour-de-force performance of her multi-character, one-woman game show. From the moment Amanda dances onto the stage as our complicated, counting-down-the-minutes “recovering” alcoholic stripper master of ceremonies, she takes us on a journey through the complex, ugly, beautiful, painful, grotesque and intimately human lives of six contestants attempting to prove how they are the best sufferers.
There is a saying that goes, “a great actor can save a mediocre play but a great play cannot save a mediocre actor.” I have seen a great deal of mediocrity saved by brilliant actors, making them entertaining but ultimately forgettable and this is where “How to Suffer Better” rises above the others, and stays with you. The premise of the show is simple, a misinterpreted read of a Snapple cap level bit of wisdom sparks a game-show where contestants make the case for themselves as the best examples of suffering and this platform for character study is what separates the good from the great. Amanda Miller’s depth in giving life to these characters, even those who have limited time on stage, live an entire story arc in front of us. Every character is fully realized, unique, haunting, and oddly relatable. We have all had the experience of frustration trying desperately to get through an endless, faceless bureaucracy of voicemail, or felt that tinge of self-effacing relief as we avoid eye contact with a homeless person yet Amanda’s cast aren’t accusatory or seeking blame so much as giving us a glimpse into the human thread which ties these stories together and connects us all. Even the littered stage, covered in the discarded detritus of our game show contestants serves as a physical manifestation of the messiness of life.
How to Suffer Better could easily have been a show about larger-than-life kookie characters we felt free to laugh at, but instead, Amanda digs deep and gives us a cast of people we laugh with, cry for, and ultimately celebrate. If I had one criticism it would be that the show utilizes wigs which would better serve as lesser sketch comedy, and they seem inferior to the material and the level of artistry, nuance, and care exhibited in every other aspect of the show. It is a minor critique but I mention it because this is a piece which appeals to a broader audience. From the description I expected to laugh and be entertained but I had no idea how moving I would find our sufferers, or how hard it would be to choose a winner. The real winner in this show was this audience member, who felt a little more satisfied in my own place in the world, and a little more prepared to suffer better.