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Edinburgh Fringe 2019

Fempire: Mess

Kirsten Vangsness

Genre: New Writing, Solo Performance, Theatre

Venue: Assembly Rooms, Powder Room


Low Down

An autobiographical journey through the mess of Kirsten’s life and quantum physics


Life can be a mess.  So we’re told by the very talented actor, Kirsten Vangsness in this powerful autobiographical one-woman show.  It is a rollercoaster ride, from scenes that have the audience in stitches to pathos, where she has pulled at our heartstrings.  Using a handful of props on a simply-dressed stage, she handily pulls us into her world of internal conflict as well as joy.

“We all are a mess, I guess, and we act like we’re totally cool”, she declares as she embarks on her life’s tale. We follow Kirsten from her early memories at age three.  She is continually questioning her self-worth.  She deals with monsters and imaginary people in her dreams, which are fragmented and described in detail. We discover her childhood room, her kitten-hating father, her sister, and her mom, who has a pattern of her face from lying on a linoleum floor. Teenage Kirsten takes us to Pentecostal church camp where people are speaking in tongues.  There is a very funny scene as she reads a steamy book that has been discarded from Grandma’s library.

All of the stories are told through the lens of quantum physics, with talk about organized chaos.  The script was inspired by a Ted Talk called Making Sense of a Visible Quantum Object by Dr. Aaron O’Connell. In his experiment, he created an object that was visible to the naked eye but in two places at once.  Kirsten draws on that premise, creating chaos and questions on stage throughout the performance.

I have rarely seen a one-woman show that is so strong and so multi-dimensional.  The acting is masterful. She delivers the full range of emotions, easily playing herself at the various life stages. She is very animated, pacing across the stage, with highly effective facial expressions. I don’t think she takes a breath for the full hour! One moment we are caught in her tangled web of conflict, and the next we are laughing to her cleverly-crafted lines and physical comedy. In one scene, the audience is handed small percussion instruments to play.  In other scenes, we are reading along with her handwritten fabric scrolls that advance the story.  Just the simple reading of that text is made comical by her animated delivery. Each character is so brilliantly portrayed that we feel that we know them by the end of the show. The multiple elements, direction, and timing keep the audience completely engaged throughout. It is delightfully madcap.  We don’t want the story to end.

I’m familiar with Kirsten Vangsness from her portrayal of the wacky but highly-intelligent character Penelope Garcia on CBS TV’s long running-series, Criminal Minds.  Seeing her live in Fempire: Mess showed me a further range of her acting. This play gave her the opportunity to stretch her acting skills and creativity, both in the physical performance and innovative new writing.  It is a must-see.  She is also at the Fringe with a full cast in her original show, Fempire: Cleo, Theo & Wu by Kirsten Vangsness.