And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years)
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 21, 2009
The themes of David Hansen's new solo show are as fundamental as they come: birth, life, death, food, art...and running. The subtitle of And Then You Die is "How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years", and indeed Hansen's run of the New York City Marathon (26.2 miles long) in 2006 gives the play its spine and structure. But the unspoken first half of the popular quote that gives the play its title—to wit, "Life's a Bitch"—is very much in evidence throughout the piece as well, as Hansen sketches out two and half decades of an unfulfilled and, if examined, still not-well-understood life.
Hansen has appeared in FringeNYC before; back in 2004 he did a solo show called I Hate This which focused on the stillbirth of his first child. The grief and anguish that fueled that show is still in evidence here, even though Hansen and his wife have been blessed with two children since their tragic experience. His daughter, who he refers to simply as "my girl" or "the girl" throughout this show, is the one who spurred him on to run the marathon, in fact, after she proudly proclaimed that "Daddy runs fast" after he ran a race. But it is the death of the first-born—and the subsequent (but thankfully temporary) spiritual death that he and his wife experienced that seems to really underlie the obsession with finishing the marathon: Hansen recalls a moment when his wife told him simply that she didn't want him to die, too, that led to a new regimen—no cigarettes, dieting, and a return to running that brought him to Staten Island in November 2006 to commence the race of a lifetime.
At its best, And Then You Die captures the thrill of the event, with Hansen vividly narrating what he felt and what he saw during the four-plus hours of the marathon while projected photos and a helpful NYC map chart his course for us visually. Segments about how he trained for the race, especially his final preparatory run, from his own home on one side of greater Cleveland, to his parents house across town, are similarly fascinating. Flashbacks to pivotal moments in his life from 1980 until 2006 are interspersed with these recollections, and they are not always as interesting or obviously pertinent. Again and again Hansen revisits issues related to food, body image, and bodily function and it's not always clear where they're supposed to take us. There are some tantalizing vignettes about his career as a cartoonist and illustrator (including a nifty piece featuring a projected time-lapse photo montage of him sketching a nude woman), but a sense of dissatisfaction pervades even these.
What I wanted was to understand why running is so fundamentally important to Hansen. But this show never really gets us to that place.
Hansen's performance is earnest if lacking in variety. The multimedia by Josh Brown is the most compelling element of the presentation. Director Alison Garrigan has Hansen changing clothes many times during the show (at one point he strips completely and exercises in silhouette—an odd choice, I thought, for someone who presumably is in tune with his body); this all feels like an unnecessary distraction. My companion suggested that this transitional movement might be intended to spell Hansen, for he runs (in place or around the stage) during almost the entire show. It is indeed a workout, but I didn't feel that it yielded the kind of endorphin high (catharsis?) we'd expect from so much energy being expended.