One-Woman Show Educates, Entertains about Mental Illness

The following play is taking place now in Norfolk, Virginia. Perhaps other
cities could invite this woman and the play to their community, or duplicate
the idea.


''MY SISTER'S SISTER,'' a play about mental illness, may leave
you laughing and crying. The production at Oscar Smith High Little
Theatre on Wednesday will be anything but boring, says Debra
Rankin, family-resource specialist with the sponsoring Chesapeake
Community Services Board.

''This play is not dry, by all means,'' Rankin said. ''There will be a
few tears and lots of laughter.'' The cutting-edge dramatic
production is a one-woman play written and performed by Julie
Portman, an internationally known playwright and actress based in
Northern Virginia.

In this, the third installment about Portman's life
and family, we see how she and her family are challenged by her
sister's mental illness, schizophrenia. ''When you mention the
word schizophrenia, many people don't actually understand what
it is,'' Rankin said. ''It's a splitting of the brain or a chemical
imbalance.'' But rather than labor over the definition of what
schizophrenia is, the play looks at how mental illness impacts a
family and how they handle it. ''The word schizophrenia is never
used in the play,'' said Julie Portman from Ki (pronounced key)
Playhouse, her Washington, Va., headquarters. '' In the play, it's
just her condition, her mental illness. '' ''My Sister's Sister,''
features a star-studded cast of one: just Portman playing the roles
of herself, her sister, her parents and various friends, neighbors and
other individuals essential to the production's drama. ''Even though
it deals with how I and my family dealt with my sister's illness, this is
autobiographical, it's about me, my life,'' Portman said. ''It's my
viewpoint in engaging with my sister and how we begin to
experience the force and effect the illness had on me and my

Portman has won scores of awards internationally for her
plays, including the very prestigious Obie Award, along with a
Fulbright grant to study classical dance and drama in India. She
was artist-in-residence at Tufts University and the Boston
Conservatory of Music. She founded and directed the Theatre On
the Wharf and Theatre Workshop, both in Boston. She is currently
artistic director of Ki Theatre. ''She's just a dynamic actress and an
excellent writer,'' Rankin said. But don't just take her word for it.
Others sang her praises as well: ''A marvelous actress who stills the
audience with her passionate storytelling,'' wrote the Washington
Post. ''Captivating,'' reported the New York Daily News.

''We de-mythologize what mental illness is,'' Portman said.
''Education is the key to everything we do,'' Rankin explained.
''When you educate, you eliminate fear; when you eliminate fear,
you eliminate hostility. We want to get the audience involved with
this production. We want to get the audience to think about the
many mental disorders out there and how mental illness effects
families. Not to demonize it but to humanize it. We want to create a
support within the audience for those with mental illness. '' As a
way to get the audience involved, Rankin said part of the drama will
include a local panel discussion facilitated by Portman on stage.
Julie Portman, an internation ally known playwright and actress
based in Northern Virginia, produced this one-woman show about
her life and family and how they dealt with her sister's
schizophrenia. ;
What: ''My Sister's Sister,'' a true dramatic story about an average
family and what happens when it is challenged by a mental illness,
written by Julie Portman. The production is sponsored by the
Chesapeake Community Services Board and supported by the
Chesapeake Foundation for the Mentally Disabled, the
Commonwealth of Virginia Commission for the Arts and
Chesapeake General Hospital.



   Copyright 1996-2004. All Rights Reserved.