Fringe Arts, Pig Iron, and PAFA unite for 99 Breakups

[Donald takes a romantic romp through a performance piece showing that breakups aren’t the end of the world. — the Artblog editors]

Have you ever needed a fresh outlook on the dreaded “breakup”? The Pig Iron Theatre Company’s 99 Breakups (a world premiere) at PAFA’s Landmark Building allows its viewers to laugh along with painful stories while shaping a collective unit that doesn’t ignore their own dark moments. 99 Breakups is an experimental and physically demanding piece of theater that keeps the audience tightly knit as they move throughout the Landmark Theater with a new view on the collapse of a relationship.

Before walking into the Landmark Building, I notice a large crowd outside watching closely. I walk over and see three men and a woman dressed in business suits being showered with water. This could be interpreted as a visual play on the idea of “getting hosed”. One man is even crying. These are probably employees being fired, and feeling the humiliation that comes with it.


Fringe volunteers then direct the audience inside the Landmark Building, where we are greeted by four jilted lovers giving away the belongings of their ex-lovers. Each box contains something completely different: toothbrushes, T-shirts, CDs, and teddy bears (I was given a teddy bear). These items give us a piece of these characters’ tortured past. Once we are broken into groups to move around the Landmark Building, we give the belongings back to the PAFA staff, which had boxes ready to be stuffed.

Dynamics of heartbreak

Woman posed
Photo courtesy of Kevin Monko.

The audience walks upstairs and sits down as we watch a band playing. A heartbroken, mentally crazed woman comes up to my section of the audience and asks us, “Why are you sitting?” I just look at her playfully, and she grabs the young girl sitting next to me, and says, “Forget him, let’s dance.” More characters enter as the band continues to play. A man dressed in exercise attire is vigorously working out with his own bodyweight. A woman in a wedding dress is drinking from a large, pink 7-Eleven Big Gulp cup. Then suddenly, one-by-one, the band members walk off disgusted with each other, as the band is officially disbanded. There is a sense of overwhelming comedy felt throughout this scene, as the viewer is forced to shift their eyes throughout the hallway in order to understand each character’s story.

The audience is then broken up into the groups of each belonging we were given. I go off with the teddy bear group; Liz, an actress playing an actress, is our charmingly awkward tour guide; she takes us throughout the building for different breakup scenarios. When we take the elevator upstairs, there is a man in the elevator car throwing up into a paper bag. When we all get out of the elevator, there are women in jumpsuits panting and breathing heavily in unison. We’re then directed to a room where the women get fired and have to collect their desk items.

Two people standing
Photo courtesy of Kevin Monko.

Next, we see two couples experiencing an argument simultaneously. Each movement is precisely replicated by both couples at the same time, even when they can’t see each other to communicate the action. This scene illustrates to the viewer that no matter the complexity of a particular breakup, there are always universal moments that make both partners emote in an angry, yet isolated way.

Another scene features two standing lesbian women, with one woman flicking her partner repeatedly in an intense way to demonstrate the sexual tension she feels. One could describe this as one-sided sex, as the partner isn’t getting a lot out of it. When her partner finally wants to embrace her, the first woman shoves her aside, as if she wants to be the only one in control of the relationship.

Then we come across a couple both dressed in a polo shirt and khaki pants. This is a point in the couple’s relationship when they openly say to each other, “I love you.” This scene evokes the pure joy and freshness in a relationship at this stage. The two constantly finish each other’s sentences and lock bodies as one. They embrace completely and wrap their hands and legs around each other.


Disconnections and new connections

A couple in bed
Photo courtesy of Kevin Monko.

The most effective scene is the penultimate scene of a married couple in bed. The scene opens with the wife lying on the bed, cleaning her ears with a Q-tip. She is sitting in the same way that Ariadne is in the famous painting (“Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos,” by John Vanderlyn), which is cleverly positioned directly above her. The audience witnesses the couple’s offbeat interactions, which lead to their underlying sexual frustration. An example of this is when the husband comes in with a hot cup of green tea. The wife immediately says, “You know green tea makes me sick to my stomach.” The husband responds with, “I know; it’s ginger tea.”

Each partner has a bullhorn that they use when they feel like their spouse isn’t fully getting their point. This eventually brings the husband to the conclusion that he has lost his sexual desire for his wife. This scene is the most dialogue-heavy, and allows the audience the clearest insight into the couple’s non-intimacy. It shows the audience that a committed relationship isn’t a sprint, but a marathon, and there is serious work required in order to make long-term love last.

99 Breakups ends with several couples dancing together and then breaking apart. The ex-partners then find a new partner to dance with, and thus begin a new relationship. An actor steps aside and gives a speech about breakups, highlighted by the line, “It’s funny how you don’t know if your relationship is a love story or breakup story until it’s the end.”

99 Breakups plays to the viewer as a collection of varied scenes about complex breakups in every sense of the word, while showing us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As Quinn Bauriedel, the artistic co-director of Pig Iron, eloquently states, “It is far better to think about beginnings, births, and newness than death, separation, and loss.”

99 Breakups plays at PAFA’s Landmark Building until September 16, 2014. For more information, please visit