This start-up theater company is out of the gate strong with the Pittsburgh-premiere production of Joe Penhall’s darkly humorous, rather heady play set in a British mental hospital.
It’s got a potent cast: local favorites David Whalen and Sam Tsoutsouvas, plus relative newcomer Rico Parker. Whalen and Tsoutsouvas play two white doctors sparring over the case of a young black patient named Chris, played by Parker.
The director is Andrew Paul (late of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre), who co-founded the troupe with Mark Clayton Southers.
While the play tackles race, class and mental illness, to me it was mostly about the power of language. Or, as one character puts it, “If people get the meaning of the word wrong, how can they get the person right?”
Take this intriguing thread. Act One is largely about Dr. Bruce trying to convince Chris to stay in the hospital, when he wants to go, as Dr. Smith agrees he should. Act Two finds Smith trying to persuade Chris to leave, after he’s changed his mind and wants to stay.
That’s when things get really interesting. Smith argues to the paranoid Chris that Bruce has put thoughts in Chris’ head, and — an especially devilish argument — that Chris’ conscious mind (which is telling him to stay in hospital) simply must catch up to his unconscious desire to leave.
Then, in a written report, Smith puts his own words in Chris’ mind. But he’s also uniwttingly fed the patient’s paranoia. After which, Chris proves as unintentionally skillful at twisting Smith’s words as Smith was at twisting his.
Follow the sinuous lines of argument for four more performances, tonight through Saturday, staged at the Pittsburgh Playwrights space at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Tickets are $15-38.
And here’s Ted Hoover’s review of the show for CP.