Cast a glass eye: Faith Helma’s alchemy

"I Hate Positive Thinking," a solo show at the Fertile Ground festival, takes a skewed look at the self-improvement industry

By CHRISTA MORLETTI McINTYRE

Faith Helma brings her alchemy to the stage with I Hate Positive Thinking.

The stage at Shout House, where this Fertile Ground festival show had its world premiere on Friday and continues through February 7,  is curated with found objects: an overly plush zebra textile that a Burner would glue-gun into a vest; a small nautical shelf that a housewife in Maine would put her glass lobster curios on; a fire-engine-red tape deck from the early ’90s; a blanket patterned with blue flower motifs from an imaginary art period; two electric candles that may have been placed on a window sill for overzealous Christmas decorating. Helma’s aura of purpose in her “manifesto against the self-improvement industry” radiates from the collection. Over the next hour, she transforms these conspicuous props as agents through her performance.

Faith Helma, solo. Photo: NicholeStewart

Faith Helma, solo. Photo: NicholeStewart

Helma shapes her metamorphosis into an elegant and vulnerable piece that takes a careful look into the meaning of life as defined by its constant adoration of change. Helma, in her light electric blue sateen jumpsuit, makes solemn transitions from curious, to lost, quixotic, despairing, raging, tender, intellectual; all framed by the important idea that the quest, no matter how small or unknown, is at the heart of the living experience.

The power behind I Hate Positive Thinking begins with its honesty and the way it makes connections between an armchair philosophy and a much bigger theater of the world. Helma’s space invites and honors the audience to become part of her process, and makes I Hate Positive Thinking truly a work in progress. It is constantly growing. Each performance is born new and not quite the same.

Helma’s take on the nonsense of “positive thinking” is real, and sometimes starkly funny. How did we get from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations to How to Tame Your Inner Gremlin as coping mechanisms in an uncertain world?

Walking away from Helma’s performance is in itself a paradox: you feel lighter in your shoulders; it touches your anger and regret, and opens new eyes on the world. I Hate Positive Thinking is less about the self-help industry and more as if Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and performance artist Janine Antoni had made a one-person show. There is a binary trend in the dramatic arts to celebrate both the rawness of the underscored and the opulence of grand productions. Helma does neither, but transmutes big ideas into what could be called everyday life, and honors that that is exactly the meaning we begin with.

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I Hate Positive Thinking continues through February 7 at Shout House, 210 S.E. Madison St., Suite 11. Ticket and schedule information here.

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