- Photo courtesy of Lauren Adler
- Valerie David
The art of the solo show returns to the Grange Hall Cultural Center in Waterbury Center with the One & Only Series, courtesy of Moxie Productions. This year the company has invited Valerie David to perform "The Pink Hulk: One Woman's Journey to Find the Superhero Within," an autobiographical piece about David's triumph over not one but two cancer diagnoses.
David was first diagnosed with Stage III non-Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was 30 years old. Cured of that disease, she was diagnosed 15 years later with breast cancer. This time the New York-based actor had to confront a challenge not only to her will to survive but to her very womanhood.
The diagnosis led to the discovery of her superhero alter ego. "When I was diagnosed, I was enraged, as angry as the Marvel superhero when he hulks out," David told Seven Days. Except that her Hulk is pink — the color internationally associated with breast cancer awareness. Like Bruce Banner, David found a way to channel her anger, changing it from a force of destruction into a superpower.
"Anger is more empowering than fear," she said. "Anger got me through this second bout with cancer." Now David is four years in remission.
The one-woman show is an ideal format for David to showcase her larger-than-life personality. She approaches her story, even the challenging bits, with wit and humor, cracking jokes such as "Losing weight is harder than fighting cancer" and "My instinct has never steered me wrong, except in dating."
After her second cancer diagnosis, David's goal became to deliver the message that overcoming adversity is possible. As she put it, "I wanted to show myself as an example: If you have a strong support system and believe in yourself, you'll find your own superhero within."
David's campaign has taken her and "The Pink Hulk" on numerous international festival tours. She earned a Wow Award at the Gothenburg Fringe Festival in Sweden — "for the show which inspired awe in audiences with its creativity, humor and content." Accepted into 25 festivals in just two years, "The Pink Hulk" was also a finalist in the New York New Works Theatre Festival in fall 2018. The Grange appearance will be its Vermont premiere.
David is humbled by the show's success, especially abroad. "During the tour in Europe, I'd have a talkback after almost every show, and with some cancer support groups. They were so appreciative that the show was so honest," she recalled. "I really put myself out there, and it resonates with so many people."
Though the show's inspirational aphorisms may seem cloying at times, "The Pink Hulk" does not shy away from gritty and difficult topics. David is surprisingly open about the hardships that came with her disease, which pushed her body to its limits. Her breast cancer brought about early menopause.
She also faced the herculean task of navigating the American health care system. When David found the lump in her breast, her plan was to wait three months until her health coverage kicked in. Luckily, a friend convinced her to have it examined sooner. But David said she never lost the sense of being "discriminated against" by insurance companies for her cancer diagnosis.
Monica Callan, producer of the One & Only Series, envisions it as a platform for people to tell their stories and connect to the stories of others. She knew that the topic of cancer would resonate with many.
"Everybody has a story about cancer, and sometimes that story has a tragic ending," Callan said. "Valerie is trying to share with people that, even if it does have a tragic ending, it doesn't eliminate the value you have in the world."
In addition to presenting her show, David hopes to provide programming to patients at the University of Vermont Cancer Center, and she's offering a workshop at the Grange on Sunday, February 10, to help people tell their own stories. She sees it as her life's work to bring joy and hope to cancer patients and anyone who meets adversity. "I'm not just on a mission to change lives," David said emphatically. "I'm on a crusade."
Correction, February 6, 2019: An earlier version of this story misstated Valerie David's stage of cancer and the town in which she is based.