Having a ‘Hard Time’ — but laughing

An overjoyed look at an often misogynist, racist, homophobic patriarchy of traditional comedy, “A Hard Time” is a male comic lampooning lecture. 

Out actors Jenn Kidwell and Mel Krodman graduated from the Pig Iron Theatre School to join company membership. Together, they created a show, in collaboration with Jess Conda that takes a hard look at society’s worst qualities.

“Our piece,” said Krodman, “is the first of any theater works Pig Iron has premiered using a new model of artistic leadership outside of the founding membership.”

The eight-year-old school’s 2020 class is also set to perform “The Border Towns” — an examination of the political noise to the north and south — at Caplan Black Box Studio. 

“Ours is the next phase of Pig Iron Company membership,” said Kidwell. “The beginning of something.” 

  “A Hard Time” started life as a prompt based on character study. “The piece that Jess, Mel and I were a part of centered around drag personas,“ said Kidwell of the trio’s experimentation. As it developed, “A Hard Time” began to incorporate inspiration from “Waiting for Godot.” 

Company co-founder Dan Rothenberg is obsessed with all-things-Beckett, and he encouraged the trio to mount the production, after further evolutions took place.  

  “After starting from a real place of pleasure,” said Krodman,“Our drag personas dimension-alized. She explained that Pig Iron’s Dito van Reigersberg (Martha Graham Cracker) asked them what their personas allowed them to do that the trio couldn’t do themselves. After spending time with that question, Krodman said the trio realized, “We get to behave in different ways, ask questions of humanity about why things are — the pleasurable joy and profound pain of existence.”

What started as a fun, presentational, risqué romp is now a meditation on humanity and our stake in it. “A Hard Time” plays with as much dramatic tension as it does comedic. “Our characters deal with the recognizable currency of a familiar kind of representation of male comedy, a familiar rhythm,” said Krodman. 

  Kidwell added, “We’re laughing at the timing and the rhythms of these men — some gregarious and alpha on the outside while being lonely and afraid inside — and the absurdity of the persistence of those characters.

“The pleasure of all that coupled with the despair of darker commotion — things we might disavow — might make these characters most acceptable, lovable even, despite being misogynistic.”

Krodman says that their characters are saying things that they cannot — a frustration that borders on anger. “Channeling such frustration and anger can be delightful to watch — and we laugh at the explosion.” She explained that people don’t often accept anger from women, trans and nonbinary people in the same way we do from men. 

“It’s a narrow spectrum of those from which [anger] is accepted and they tend to be straight and male.”

Krodman, Kidwell and Conda lampoon male archetypes and specific comedians in “A Hard Time.” When the names Jackie Gleason and Bill Cosby are mentioned, Kidwell and Krodman chuckle. “We’re very intentionally lampooning them,” says Krodman.

Kidwell recalls growing up with a funny father — not a professional comic, but the funniest man in her life — and how he found great delight in making fun. 

“That’s very much alive in me still,” Kidwell said. “I laughed at his jokes, while telling him, over the years, how the things he found funny can be super problematic.  Yet, I laughed, so part of this show deals with how can I reconcile being so deeply in love with him as a father figure and a man, when some of the things he found funny were so wrong.” 

 While Kidwell believes he truly was respectful of people, she said, “That complication and coexistence of love and wanting to realign where we find humor is the point of this show for me.”

Krodman said that inevitably “A Hard Time” questions the paradigms of humor, reflects on the survival of outdated and often inappropriate jokes, and interrogates the ethics behind our laughter.

“A Hard Time” is showing at FringeArts through May 12. For tickets and more information, visit pigiron.org/productions/hard-time.

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