Total Rating: 
May 7, 2017
Theater Type: 
The Edge
Theater Address: 
5454 North Broadway
Ed Proudfoot

Bipolar disorder — the psychological infirmity once known as manic-depression, characterized by bouts of intense emotional obsession — is hereditary. Its symptoms are manifested through behavior, rather than through any measurable pathogen. It is often found in large, quarrelsome, stress-riddled groups, the propensity of the afflicted to attempt suicide usually contributing to the aforementioned stress. It is also frequently evidenced in only one child per generation.

The women of the Smith clan fit this description to the smallest Rx: Rachel is a fussy spinster prone to hypochondriacal ailments. Holly is a hard-drinking, biker-butch lesbian. Sister-in-law Carol is the wife of born-again Harold — the lone Smith brother — who practices chastity within marriage. This leaves Lauren the carrier of a "family curse" that has not swayed her from her reproductive duties. The picnic they propose to conduct this autumn afternoon is in celebration of daughter Penny's birthday, following the latter's filial rite of passage — hospitalization and pharmaceutical intervention after a narrowly aborted leap from the roof of the medical facility.

Since the major part of Ed Proudfoot's world-premiere play is devoted to clinical explications of the physical and social intricacies surrounding this oft-misunderstood malady, we soon discern that three of the four Smith siblings have implemented strategies to prevent proliferation of their fractious genes. Ironically, our detached view — while mirroring the resignation of intimates too long exposed to recurring crises — highlights the fundamental selfishness inherent in Lauren's proclaiming her preparations for ending her own life.

Artemisia director Carrie Lee Patterson has wisely assembled a cast with the collective expertise to convey the dysfunctional fallout arising from this incurable illness without slipping into operatic histrionics (except when Lauren or Penny are in the throes of a seizure, telenovela-strength passion being a major component thereof). The results may emerge somewhat nebulous — those striving to follow the trajectory of its mosaic leaps back and forth in time risk sustaining whiplash — but if Proudfoot's case study sends playgoers home knowing more about the disease under scrutiny than when they arrived, it's a step toward diminishing the toll it continues to exact on our society.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 4/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
April 2017