The Pink Hulk, written and performed by Valerie David and directed by Padraic Lillis, with artwork by Rebecca Kalant, is not your typical sad cancer story. After surviving lymphoma and breast cancer, Valerie decided to create The Pink Hulk to share her experiences with both types of cancer. The material of the play largely focuses on the breast cancer portion of her journey. Valerie uses her considerable humor and wit to weave her narrative, which is at times harrowing, but is mostly a testament to her strength.
The Pink Hulk is about relationships; relationships to lovers, friends, family, doctors, and our own bodies. Valerie describes what happened when she was vacationing and hooked up with a younger man before her breast cancer diagnosis. It is clear from her very first vignette that she has had to learn to ask for what she wants. We see this moxie return after her second cancer diagnosis – how can she overcome this threat to her body, her womanhood, which she takes so much pleasure in?
The answers are clear as she proceeds. Valerie does get treatment for breast cancer. It does take a toll on her body, but she does not let it control her. She uses her Hulk-like anger to push her through the most difficult parts of her treatment. She does not allow treatment to proceed unless it’s on her own terms. Valerie David’s ebullience shines through in each encounter she relates. The moments where she is light-hearted make the moments where she discusses her suffering, such as during the radiation treatment, that much more excruciating.
This is not a heartbreaking play. It is a play that shows the strength and resilience of Valerie David as she overcomes a second cancer diagnosis. What is heartbreaking is that our society still makes women feel like their physical assets or their child-bearing ability are the most important things they have to offer. It’s an incredibly uplifting moment when Valerie has her fears about her post-treatment breasts assuaged. Her ability to utilize her sexuality is on her terms as well; it’s something she clearly enjoys and takes great pride in. I still found myself wishing that she had never had to suffer through those fears that she was no longer adequate as a woman. There is clearly nothing about Valerie David that isn’t exceptional.
The Pink Hulk is a triumph of the one-woman show format – except we don’t just get one woman. We get Valerie David and a constellation of others who came into her orbit during a challenging time in her life. The Pink Hulk is the apogee of cancer narratives; the zenith, the apex. You can’t get much better than this. We hear tragic stories every day, but it’s important to hear the happy endings as well; for survivors as well as for those who may face similar challenges in the future.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
The Pink Hulk plays through November 12, 2017, at the DCAC Top – 401 North Howard Street, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets and Charm City Fringe Festival buttons may be purchased at Fringe HQ (Le Mondo, 406 North Howard Street), the venue, or online.
Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market is joining DC Theater Arts in support of our coverage of the Charm City Fringe Festival. The Market closes at 6 PM on weekdays and is closed Sundays, but we recommend that Fringe-goers stop by on Saturday to grab lunch and take a look around, in addition to checking out the local bands which play from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM.