In the small, yet very welcoming Sherry Theater, in the NoHo Arts District, a thought-provoking play written by John Olive “Standing On My Knees” is being reintroduced by the Collaborative Artists Ensemble there.
Twelve years after the inaugural debut of this play at The Sherry, the company revisits this psychological thriller. It is compelling and disturbing as it stands at the intersection of mental illness and creativity. Should severe mental illness be confronted as a condition that needs modern medicine to control its dimensions? What happens if it destroys a person’s wonderful and necessary creativity? It’s a difficult paradox and an unlikely option for the unaffected mind. How would you choose, if you had a choice? It’s not that simple or obvious as we bear witness to it here. This show is unnerving and yet well worth seeing with this talented group of actors that embody the characters with heart, pain and wonder.
Meg Wallace, Kathy Bell Denton
Catherine is the protagonist. She is the damaged one that cannot walk the normal line we are all expected to do. Her mental illness is from birth and her managing techniques have been frequent hospitalizations and unwelcomed medication. The stage is set for a tumultuous story as we open up in her very simple and small apartment. She is lying on her bed awakening from the incessant voices that haunt her nights. They call to her. They are torturous and unrelenting. How can she stop them and yet survive with her poetic gifts?
Not surprisingly, Catherine is surrounded by people who push and prod her in different directions. She has just been released from a long stint in a mental ward and wants desperately to feel and live in a normal way. Watching her try to navigate the world of well-meaning people; the psychiatrist, the new boyfriend, or the publicist friend is difficult. The latter desperately needs Catherine’s talent to make her life successful. Well-meaning and well-intentioned people we surround ourselves with often breed pain. And it is not clear which way Catherine will choose, or be forced to choose. However, it becomes abundantly clear that she is fighting too many demons and cannot satisfy them all.
Meg Wallace, Susan Kohler
This production highlights the issues of mental madness versus creativity in its most basic form. Catherine is put into a catch 22 position. If she struggles to capture her earlier poetic successes, she fails herself and her promises. With the pressures from her circle of friends and lovers, she must decide which is more important, wellness or creativity. She is being pulled apart by them and her voices. What will dear Catherine do?
This play takes the audience to a place of deep reflection. The constant and unusual choice of agitated music adds to the plot inciting behaviors that are a bit uncomfortable to watch. In addition, the other characters that support and pressure Catherine to do something that may cause her harm creates an atmosphere of uneasy tension in the house. In fact, the body language of Catherine, the stinted speech and deliberate and calculated movements, are so realistic that one wonders what the actress is really like off the stage. Meg Wallace is just wonderful as the tormented unsure Catherine.
The Collaborative Artists Ensemble takes great strides to present thought-provoking productions.
It is a pleasure to see what is on tap here each time I arrive. It is a pleasure to witness such great actors and top-notch writing. Mr. Olive has provided us with a wonderful roadmap of the devastation and frustrations of mental illness. He is an award-winning playwright and wrote this one in 1981.
Let’s not forget the other actors; Kathy Bell Denton, Susan Kohler and Brian Kavanaugh. They are all seasoned and very skilled artists from stage and screen. They not only playoff Catherine, but they also make her more human, more reachable. The perfect staging highlights the gloom over Catherine as well. A small distressed apartment with the bare minimum, which includes her beloved record player, is perfect, Thank you, production designer, Steve Jarrard. Although it is basically a one-room play, the movements and changes that the director employs lends itself to a much bigger stage. This production I had the privilege to see was managed by Zahra Husein.
Please come and enjoy the fine writing and acting for “Standing on My Knees” at The Sherry Theater before the run is over. May 10-June 2, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.