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Misha Penton

first performed on October 29, 2019
The MATCH - Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston, Houston, TX
performed once in 2019


Margo Stutts Toombs

Houston, TX


“The Merry Mortality Mystery Show” addresses three different health scares I’ve experienced. The first performance, presented as part of the Houston Fringe Festival, ran about 45 minutes. Longer editions will be developed, but no longer than 75 minutes.

On the surface, “The Merry Mortality Mystery Show” is a fairly straight-forward one-man show in the theater tradition, but it also uses devices that might be categorized under conceptual art. At three different points in the show, Margo Stutts Toombs, dressed in medical scrubs, entered with a hospital pan full of prescription bottles and dumped them on my head. In each of those pans was a closed circle chain of the bottles, which I put on, around my neck. While I reacted to the dumping, I did not refer to it or the chain. At the end of the show, I had three of these chains (my word—audience members saw them also as leis or simply necklaces) around my neck, and the stage is littered with hundreds of pill bottles. There are also two interludes in my storytelling, where I tell the stories of my parents’ deaths, during which I arrange the spilled bottles on the floor into shapes—one a heart shape to correspond with the telling of my father’s fatal heart attack, the second an hourglass as I tell of my mother’s cancer. I then destroy both shapes. I let these actions speak for themselves while my speech is simply telling the stories.

But tying all of it together is our mortality: my personal brushes with mortality—a heart event, a mass on my pancreas, and prostate cancer—juxtaposed against two very close-to-me deaths. As the title’s “merry” might suggest, I do so with a light touch, using humor to keep the piece from being morose. The “mystery” in the title refers to these potentially deadly events that nonetheless have left me relatively healthy while acknowledging not everyone is so lucky. “Why me?” and “Why not me?” are both central (though not expressly stated) questions.

I will continue to develop this show, with iterations that might fit one audience better than another, with lengths to fit specific situations. For example, a medical audience might get one emphasis, a religious audience another. Ultimately, I made the piece to encourage people with the news that health crises are not always deadly and that humor, as they say, is good medicine.