April 19, 2005

Theater Covers Schizophrenia

Following is a marketing piece on a new play that has just come out at University of California, Berkeley - at the Aurora Theater company. It sounds interesting - if someone has seen the play, please post a comment and let us know your thoughts on it.

Aurora Theater plays with politics of schizophrenia

SOURCE: UC-Berkeley, California

The Aurora Theatre Company's new production of "Blue/Orange" is about as intense to watch as a crime drama, and equally satisfying. Joe Penhall's drama of politics in the mental health field utterly engages the viewer with brilliant characters, despite the difficult subject matter. One must pay attention to the many literary references to catch the jokes, but that's part of the fun. We're Berkeley students -- we get it.

The plot revolves around an argument between a psychiatrist and his boss over whether to discharge their schizophrenic patient. Christopher, who sees oranges as blue and insists African leader Idi Amin is his father, clearly needs to stay in the mental hospital, as per Bruce's recommendation.

But his overbearing superior, Robert, wants to get rid of patients with the least amount of effort necessary so that he can pursue his dissertation on, as he puts it, "black psychosis."

Of course, the audience recognizes Robert's idiocy right away from his bumbling and incoherent assessments of the patient. He uses every possible excuse to rationalize sending Christopher home, only to keep patients coming in and money flowing, and to increase his stature within academia. Bruce, as the "good doctor," argues passionately for a longer stay, which he claims will be in the patient's best interest.

Although these characters seem simplistic, their neuroses become painfully apparent as the dialogue chaotically spins out. At one point, Bruce loses his cool and lashes out at his patient, marring his otherwise admirable stance. Later, it becomes clear that he too isn't above looking out for his own interests.

While the English dramatist Joe Penhall has written several plays dealing with the topic of mental illness, "Blue/Orange" is widely acknowledged as the most accomplished. Amazingly, he wrote the play in only three weeks, and just for fun. He attributes his fascination with the topic to his own experiences with friends who suffer from schizophrenia, a disorder that causes abnormal interpretations of reality.

In Christopher's case, this includes paranoia and delusions. But far from dismissing him as monstrous or inhuman, the script finds a balance between sympathy and reality. The audience gets to see both sides of Christopher -- the lonely, sick human being and the angry, dangerous person he sometimes becomes.

"Blue/Orange" tackles issues of race relations as well. Robert, who arguably represents a flawed brand of painfully self-aware cultural sensitivity, betrays his own subtle racism while loudly denouncing racists. In one such moment, he encourages Christopher, who is black, to "go listen to some reggae music." This is delivered in a deadpan manner, as are many such one-liners throughout the play. For a play centered around the topic of mental illness, it's pretty funny.

However, the play is hard to watch at times. The intimate staging of the Aurora Theatre pus the audience in such close proximity to the actors that one catches every nuance of facial movement, but also hears every note of the loud shouting and stomping.

Still, "Blue/Orange" draws viewers in. Far from being self-conscious or pretentious, the performance moves along with ease and assurance. True, the literary and cultural allusions fly fast and furious past the audience, forcing one to concentrate to appreciate the dialogue.

But the highly charged physicality of most scenes makes one sit on edge. Small quibbles aside, "Blue/Orange" is a highly complex and intelligent piece of theatre.

For more information, or tickets:
Blue/Orange - at The Aurora Theater Company

Posted by szadmin at April 19, 2005 08:37 PM

More Information on Schizophrenia Books, TV, Movies & Plays


Post a comment

Please enter this code to enable your comment -
Remember Me?
(you may use HTML tags for style)
* indicates required