nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 11, 2012
Most things are set up to be seen—it's signs that help people find their way....In an airport for example, you're expected to read the signs to find your airline, a monitor to find your flight and baggage, signs to security, signs to the gate.
It is so important to realize what you take for granted! My eyes, for example; I take them for granted all the time. And so when actor/musician/playwright Pamela Sabaugh reminds us—as she does in the quoted paragraph up above—how much of what most of us think of as conventional everyday life is built upon the assumption that we can see, it's—please forgive the expression—eye-opening.
Immaculate Degeneration, Sabaugh's fine and moving one-woman show at FringeNYC, is mind-expanding, actually; it really does let us walk in someone else's shoes for a while, conveying vividly and viscerally, with great intelligence, compassion, and warmth, what it's like to be differently abled from most people. Sabaugh is legally blind—she was stricken with Juvenile Macular Degeneration (fundus flavimaculatus) when she was a teenager, a condition with no known cure. But there is not a drop of self-pity in this show; indeed, as Sabaugh tells her story to us, we come to see that this would be anathema to everything she's made up of.
This is, instead, a show about empathy. What do you need when the world is organized in a way that largely excludes you? The answer, Sabaugh learned, is the deepest of understanding—of yourself and of others. How she came to acquire such profound understanding is the main subject of this show, and there are lessons for all of us to be taken from it.
She tells her tale in stories: delightful, entertaining, touching anecdotes involving friends and family in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan—a place, she informs us, that's about as unfriendly to non-motor-vehicle-owning individuals as is possible to find in the USA. She talks about how she found her calling as an actor, and then almost lost track of it a couple of times. Her journey takes her to the Detroit inner city in the 1980s where she hangs out with the "cool kids" until their behavior starts to get too un-cool, to Rutgers University and eventually New York City.
When the ideas and emotions of her tale become too large for mere talk, she augments the monologue with songs—seven in all, which she performs while accompanying herself on guitar.
Immaculate Degeneration is beautifully articulated; a piece that will be worthwhile to read so that its most salient points about a desire for opportunity (as opposed to entitlement) can truly be savored. For now, go see Sabaugh perform it, beautifully and thoughtfully, under the precise direction of Fred Backus. Your perspective on many areas of life that you don't often think about will undoubtedly be shifted.