Photo courtesy Damiian Mario Lang
A couple dozen seats in a cramped backyard is an intimate setting for any show, but uniquely so for Damiian Mario Lang’s solo Fringe performance. He’s from Minnesota but he’s traveled with this production around California, where he has to explain what Dinkytown is and give some background on the region. But for this series of shows, he’s there, talking to an audience sitting outside the very house in which he spent much of his childhood.
In the heart of Dinkytown, just a couple blocks from the main drag on 14th Ave., the purple house with pink trim cuts a quaint figure, especially now during the festival with its hand-lettered sign and colorful sheets cordoning off the yard from the sidewalk. But when Lang lived there beginning in the early '70s, it was an often debauched hub for travelers, folks with nowhere else to turn, people who passed out on the lawn after parties and just stayed on, ex-cons, and other wayward souls. Lang lived there with his mother, who generously opened her doors to these people while neglecting her own children. Lang lived there with five of his six older siblings and, at its height, nearly 20 outcasts at a time.
As you can imagine, this made for an interesting childhood, and it’s engrossing to hear a gifted storyteller such as Lang weave yarns and animatedly reenact scenes from his youth. He had no supervision or boundaries, he says, total freedom to do whatever he wanted. He and an older brother who was his best friend and closest co-conspirator had the run not only of the house, but also the neighborhood. Together they wailed on rats with hockey sticks at the railroad tracks, pounded roaches with towels in their kitchen, and, as they got older, supported each other through psychological and emotional pain.
You get the sense of looking at a life through the eyes of the man who lived it. It’s all so personal, and so local (a few family friends of Lang’s were even at the performance I attended) that it can’t help but feel urgent and alive. There’s some opportunity for audience participation, and a brief but illuminating post-show discussion, to further give you the feeling that you’re living Dinkytown history.