Analyze everybody

The Girl Who Fed Ants

By Nechama Liss-Levinson
Directed A.M. Raychel
Playtime Series Main Stage
The Theatre-Studio Inc.
750 8th Avenue, Suite 200 (866-468-7619)
Non-union production (closes Dec. 22)
Review by Adam Cooper

Drawing on personal experiences from psychoanalysis and parent-child relationships, Nechama Liss-Levinson’s play The Girl Who Fed Ants attempts to trace how therapeutic dynamics between a patient and her male psychotherapist can exacerbate unresolved trauma in the clinician’s own life. Rachel (Abby Fox) is an intelligent graduate student who is stifled by unresolved feelings of rejection and lovelessness from her domineering and denying mother (Greta Thyssen). Jay (Albert Aeed) is her psychotherapist, who is rattled by her feelings of affection for him, causing resonating conflict between him and his wife Natalie (Kris Lundberg). As Rachel heeds his call to expose more of herself, he becomes compelled to play out his own intimacy issues with Natalie, jeopardizing both his marriage and his legitimacy as a clinician.

The production was quite energized, as exemplified by its fast-paced series of almost shard-like, locale-jumping vignettes. While the play earnestly attempts to convey movement with multiple layers of psychological implications, it is fundamentally hampered by failing to actualize a Playwriting 101 dictum: show, don’t tell. Therapy plays, like dramatizations of juries or classrooms, are especially challenging because of the risk of all talk, no action. Because so much of what occurs in this production was conveyed through verbal recollection, feeling those moments and empathizing with the characters was quite difficult. The multitude of talk on dreams and memories, for instance, muddled their momentum. Instead of dramatizing the interplay between treatment and living it out as illustrated in the film Ordinary People, or how transference of patient material can palpably radicalize a therapist, such as in the film Dressed to Kill, this production proffered the mechanics of meaning without the vitality of action.

To forward its intellectual agenda, the production was saddled with contrivances and conceits, such as the underdeveloped hard-to-believe breakthrough on Rachel’s subway accident or the marriage-threatening nature of not uncommon therapy dynamics. Because of the doctor’s intransigence toward self-analysis and the cold analytical responses from his wife, the conflict between Jay and Natalie became repetitious and predictable. And due to character exposure being limited to words rather than actions, the transformations of Rachel and Jay were hard to accept.

Direction (A.M. Raychel) mostly contributed to the production’s overzealous manipulation of connections and patterns, often utilizing uninspired choices such as having all the actors face the audience during a private moment or juxtaposing Rachel and Natalie on either side during Jay’s self-examination. Some of the acting choices were also hard to fathom, such as the doctor’s regressive responses to Rachel’s stimuli or Natalie’s unsympathetic and sarcastic judgments to Jay’s dilemma.

Set design (uncredited) was basic, limited, and rather makeshift. Clusters of nondescript tables and chairs defined the three playing spaces. The doctor’s diploma and a piece of artwork were haphazardly taped to the walls. Lighting and sound designs (uncredited) energetically tried to create mood and meaning yet were often two-dimensional in their choices. One ill-fitting sound device was the use of 1950s-style experimental music to underscore dream sequences firmly rooted in 1990s sensibilities. An odd and perhaps unintended visual throughout the play was the doctor’s diploma overlaid on top of slide projections of an aging girl. Costume design (uncredited) adequately served the agendas of conveying occupation, persona, and transformation. Overall, the production was loaded with crisscrossing psychosocial dynamics but lacking in beat-to-beat dramatic transformations that are the engine of a good play.

 Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Adam Cooper