Small Box Psychosis & The Lithium Waltz

By Barry McKinley
Directed by Mitchell Riggs and Catherine Zambri
Camilla's Theatre Gallery

Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Review provided by oobr, "the off-off-broadway review"

Camilla's has been forced to move; they're now bunking with Circle Rep. in the latter's lab./rehearsal space at Broadway and Bleecker, a considerable step uptown from their previous digs in TriBeCa.

Their recent work shows that their sense of quality has traveled with them, despite the exigencies of having their lease yanked on short notice. Both these plays are exercises in the sinister and require total commitment from all on stage -- otherwise, they would come across as just two melodramatic exercises in Playwriting 101. Luckily, the casts and directors were up to the challenge of the material.

Perhaps the more successful (because more economical), ``Small Box Psychosis'' depicts a lawyer (Mick Weber)'s trip in an elevator to his 14th-floor apartment. (Weber acquitted himself well in a similar role in Bliss at Currican.) Charlie, the elevator operator (George Sheffey), seemingly your everyday, glad-to-see-ya-Mr.-Schacht churl, stops the elevator between floors and at gunpoint forces Schacht to change clothes with him.

The plot thickens when the other elevator boy, Eddie (Eddie Vassallo), appears -- in drag. It seems he has been stealing little feminine things from the tenants. They all get stoned and decide that, instead of killing Schacht to cover Eddie and Charlie's tracks, Charlie will kill Schacht's wife and Schacht and Eddie will live together. And then it turns out than all this was a passing fantasy while the lawyer waited for the elevator to ascend.... Well, this sort of thing must be done well or not at all - it's ground well-gone-over by the likes of Pinter and other Absurdists. The cast and director couldn't be faulted for credibility and pacing. (Charles Kirby's set, just a rug, fuse box, and annunciator box, was also economically effective.)

``The Lithium Waltz'' depicts new boy Billy (Mahlon Stewart)'s first day in the nut house, where he has gone for observation. He must pass a written test or.... The inhabitants ``help'' him: Tommy Tango (Dean Bradshaw), the hyperactive ballroom dancer; The Professor (Fred Burrell), making ``rocket fuel'' (moonshine); repressed nympho Lydia (Katrin Naumann), TT's partner; insider/smartass/liar Joey (Mitchell Riggs); and of course Nurse Priscilla (Rebecca Pusto), come to check Billy's answers. Each represents a peculiarly maniacal quality that could be associated with a mental ailment or could be just an intensification of sanity. Each freaks Billy out further, toward the point of no return. And each characterization required a leap into psychic space without a safety net, for the actors and director Zambri. Stewart's contrapuntal ``normalcy'' held the others in check.

It is hard to imagine that McKinley's trips into the Twilight Zone would work unless done with crisp ferocity and total belief. (Not to fault the new Irish playwright: what's wrong with melodrama, if it works?) Like farce, these plays are probably not actor-proof and must be done well or not at all. Luckily, visitors to Camilla's didn't have to test that hypothesis.

Kirby's second set (a window and some strange, paper-cutout stars) was less effective than the first. The lighting for both plays (Chris Dallas) was subtle as well as effective. (Stage manager, Todd Butera.)

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 John Chatterton
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