So here’s the deal: the card game 52 Pickup is, technically, not a game so much as it is a mess. You grab a deck of cards, say “52 pickup!” and scatter the cards every which way. Sometimes it’s in fun, but sometimes you do it in frustration. But the idea is to deal with the mess, and try to piece the deck back together so you can go on playing. Katie Nixon uses this metaphor for the process of falling apart and pulling your life back together again quite deftly, and in her one-woman show, 52 Pickup, we see her navigate through physical and psychological trauma, and survive to play again. Witty, interactive, and as hilarious as it is sobering, 52 Pickup gives you a close-up of the dangers of obsessive partners, the emotional blackmail and physical threats they impose on you, and the lasting impact they can have. The skillful use of voice-overs (representing family, friends, and therapist) enhance an already-intense experience.
The time frame shifts backwards and forwards, as we see her deal with a boyfriend whose controlling instincts clearly become predatory and extreme, to the point that he demands she hand over her phone and attempts to lock her into his truck. When she finally blocks him from her phone, she starts getting messages from his string of new girlfriends—each of whom, we assume, has left him for much the same reason.
The Spider space is intimate and I recommend you sit up front – in part because Nixon lights up as a performer, bearing the burden of this history lightly and with a fine sense of humor. Dance features prominently as a way of evoking the challenges she faces. A multi-instrumentalist, at key points in the story she heads for a keyboard or picks up a guitar to sing through the emotions of the moment. The most successful song of the evening, “Monster – F*ck Boy – Husband,” has the right balance of dread and laughs.
At one point, to illustrate the horrific challenges she faced, Nixon pulls out an audience member and pretends to have a fun night of watching flicks with a bestie; the chit-chat about favorites, songs, etc., soon devolves as texts from her boyfriend come in with increasing rapidity (which she feels she has to pick up – another take on the show’s title). It is a stunning reminder of how digital media has come to control our lives, and how easily it can overwhelm us.
52 Pickup is a close-up treatment of a survivor of abuse; it is performed in an engagingly personal manner, and it is well worth the trip upstairs at the St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, where it will be performed until the end of July.
Running Time: 60 minutes without intermission.