Acting out

Call Me Crazy

By Paula J. Caplan
Directed by Rebecca Patterson
Sage Theatre at Raw Space
529 W. 42nd St. (929-3423)
Non-union production (closes Feb. 20)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

In the parlance of the profession she targets so caustically in Call Me Crazy, Paula J. Caplan has issues with the psychiatry establishment. In particular, it's the DSM-Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness, the "bible" of the American Psychiatric Association-that comes under fire in this thoroughly entertaining play. Careening from gut-wrenching seriousness to vaudeville-style antics, Call Me Crazy questions the DSM's validity and humanity: in cataloging 374 psychiatric disorders, the book makes symptoms out of such non-psychotic conditions as smoking, fearing a violent husband, and ambivalence about being homosexual.

Which means anyone of us could be labeled "mentally ill" because of a bad habit or unhappiness. And it means that a battered woman who seeks help in getting out of an abusive relationship may someday have the psychiatric "diagnosis" used against her in a custody case. That is just one of the baleful scenarios that Caplan-a psychologist as well as actor and playwright-presents in Call Me Crazy.

Caplan's proxy is a character named Harmony (DeeAnn Weir), a young psychologist who challenges her mentor's blind faith in the DSM. As Harmony and her three colleagues debate their tactics, an ensemble of four acts out the incidents they discuss. Clad in hospital gowns, the performers in the ensemble portrayed both patients and psychiatrists. They sang and danced, they even played inanimate objects (more on that later). Caplan's ingenious interchange of a dramatic play with comic sketches and musical numbers gives both satiric and somber force to her message. She was abetted by director Rebecca Patterson, who accommodated a lot of quick-changing action in a limited space. Between Patterson's staging and the actors' timing, things moved briskly and smoothly in this short play.

While everyone in Call Me Crazy was well-cast, the four actors who comprised the ensemble couldn't help but steal the show with their versatility. They demonstrated their dramatic talent in monologues (as wrongfully diagnosed patients) and showcased their musical comedy talents in the Forbidden Broadwayesque parodies. The women, Barbara Balph and Vanessa Hidary, were especially impressive. Along with the men in the ensemble, Phillip Stafford and Robert Lehrer, Balph and Hidary have become some of the few actors who can list such roles as "File Cabinet" and "Toilet" on their resumes: among their multiple duties was portraying the set used by the other characters. (Does Equity know about this?) This gimmick underscored the notion that psychiatry objectifies people-yet another salvo in Caplan's uproarious assault on her profession.

(Also featuring John D'Arcangelo, Lynn Battaglia, Kevin Rolston, and Paula J. Caplan. Set, Monica Shinn; costumes, Lorena Gomez; lighting, Louis Lopardi.)
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Adrienne Onofri