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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review- Remission (FringeNYC)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

There's a stigma attached to the word Schizophrenic, more than to other mental illnesses. Virtually everyone throws around "depressed" on a daily basis with nary a care, and when you hear someone is bi-polar, well, they're just a bit moody. Aren't we all? But bring out the S world and somehow everyone still hearkens back to Sally Field-as-Sybil: one minute speaking with a deep voice, one minute doing a girlish pirouette. Silly. That was multiple personality disorder. All these years and the two diseases which have nothing to do with each other are still being confused.

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder, it brings hallucinations, delusions and voices. It's a fearful disorder, misunderstood and foreign. One that we rarely, if ever, hear has gone into remission. And yet, that's exactly what Remission is about: actor Dan Berkey who was schizophrenic for 45 years tells his own story through the words of two-time FringeNYC Excellence Award Winner (2002, 2003) Kirk Wood Bromley.

Let me say straight off that to have watched another actor in this play would have been terrifying, but to see Berkey tell his own story is something a little bit further than that...further than terrifying. Further than disturbing. Further than uncomfortable. And yet...seeing that at the end of it he is okay...well, that makes us okay.

The play begins with Dan's direct address as he breaks down the words "Post Schizophrenic Actor" and there are a lot of words here. Almost Shakespearean, as dramatic as Beckett, big and overdrawn, and in a way fitting. But in another way I begged to be spoken to plainly; here was Dan's moment (with or without Kirk Wood Bromley) to tell plainly what was going to happen, because Lord knows enough of the next hour was going to be confusing, verbose, strange, inflated, and awkward enough. Not to say this is a bad play, quite the contrary, only to say this is a difficult journey and it is told starkly, plainly, and without anything to cushion the blows. So a little bit of plainer talk at the onset would have helped to explain what was about to happen.

Next, Dan, continuing to take the audience out of its comfort zone, or perhaps in an effort to truly connect in the way one does in a support group, a church, or a family reunion, came out and touched as many of the audience members as he could because, as he said, "we all came here to be touched in some way". With that touch it was like he was joining us to him, and very soon we weren't just watching this show but participating in it. If this was even a wisp of what Schizophrenia is (and how would one ever be able to know without experiencing it?) then I can only say that living through 1.5 hours of it made me feel like I survived a water boarding, so 45 years of it is unimaginable.

Remission is like standing in front of two mirrors which face each other and are constantly reflecting, and then refracting every image brought before it. There is so much meta data being assembled in sight, sound, voice over voice over voice, spilling over each other that it's almost too much...sensory overload to the point of being painful. But then it keeps going, past the pain, till it's profound, and there are moments of stillness, poetry ("I'm no star to those who wish on me") and of peace. Then it's on, past the profound, where it becomes uncomfortable until it refracts again, it becomes confusing, again, (falling into a darkness "my teeth are screaming again") with one small moment of understanding that grows, a little more a little more, it careens off, and you're lost again ("I learned to be more or less more...and less").

Dan begins the telling of his life with the early years, and has no problem taking us through terrifying scenes of abuse; it's very personal, very intimate, graphic. And it's heartbreaking. All the while it's impossible not to remember that this isn't a brilliant actor embodying a tortured soul, but rather a tortured soul recreating his deepest despair in order to show the enormous, profound difference between him and (perhaps) us. And if there is no difference, then Lord help us.

Dan's middle years are full of drugs, the illegal kind, and voices, the hellish kind, save for one hallucination, Timothy, who doesn't speak but acts as Dan's guardian angel. Dan's visions are hard to understand, and those Berkey acts out are visceral and brutal. Berkey uses every cell of his being in his acting, sweating so much that he must change shirts midway through the play, and constantly replenishing his fluids with Gatorade. He also uses every inch of the theatre, he draws on it in chalk, he rolls on it, he hides behind parts of it, throws himself up against its walls, runs up into the audience and back again, flings himself to the floor; he'd fashion a trapeze and swing from the ceiling if it were conceivable. He also cooks, but more on that later.

At some point Dan is FINALLY diagnosed and put on a regiment of drugs (the legal kind) which he doesn't like. ("The drugs slow things down. And when you slow things down, other things can catch up with you.") After being plagued by voices and hallucinations for all these years it suddenly doesn't feel right to give over such complete control to a group of doctors. We may say, why not? Isn't it better to control these impulses? but as Dan says "You either own your body or not. How you own it is your business, but how you don't is theirs."

45 years is a long time. A very long time. And perhaps when you've gone through as much as Dan has gone through, it bears the 1.5 hours of storytelling. And certainly, of the two of you, Berkey is certainly the more exhausted afterwards, having relived his demons, spoken to them, spat at them, swallowed them...and finally boiled them away in a fine pot of steel cut oatmeal. However, this is a very very very draining piece of theatre and while I commend Berkey's agility and force of will, and applaud Bromley's ability to sculpt what one would think is unsculptable, this is still one heck of a long journey.

I will say, the good news is, it ends at the beginning, with a Post Schizophrenic Actor. "For those who don't believe I am in remission, for those who say I was never schizophrenic to begin with, I thrill in your assessment of my life". Strong words, from a strong man.

The piece ends peacefully, as Dan explains his remission; a sudden vision which saved him. Unexplainable but then, who cares. And as he says, this is literally Re-Mission - a new direction, a new mission. In this new, peaceful world, Dan has learned to nurture, and allow, and experience. He savors, and he simmers. And in the end, he rejoices in his second chance.

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The New York International Theatre Festival
Inverse Theatre Company present
Remission
The Players Loft

Remaining performances: Friday, August 28th @8:45PM and Saturday, August 29th @2:30PM. For tickets visit www.FringeNYC.org .

The Players Loft | 115 MacDougal, 3rd Floor | Manhattan.

1 comment:

Egon Covert said...

Thanks for the Remission review! Our next show is something I also think you'll like:

http://inversetheater.org/nowshowing.html

Thanks!

Kirk Wood Bromley
Artistic Director
Inverse Theater