Crazy Head Space
Lyrics by Elisabeth S. Davis, music by Elisabeth S. Davis and Michelango Sosnowitz
Playing at South Street Seaport, 210 Front St., through April 5
90 Minutes, $18
See http://www.abraxasstagecompany.com/crazyheadspace.html for more information
If we usually reserve the details of our inner lives for the therapist’s office or the ears of our most intimate friends, this is especially true for our traumas, obsessions, and mental disorders. So it comes as a bit of a shock to see these difficult experiences transformed into song-and dance routines complete with high-stepping choreography, glittering eyeshadow, and operatic chorus lines.
Yet this is the radical premise of playwright and drama therapist Elisabeth S. Davis’s Crazy Head Space, playing at the South Street Seaport until April 5. The production consists of a series of energetically performed musical skits based for the most part on entries from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standardized shrink’s bible to the classification of mental illness. The skits proceed in alphabetical order from Addiction to Zoophilia, striking tones ranging from brash hilarity to utmost agony. And while it’s possible to question Davis’s choices as to which disorders get the lightest treatment—none of the sexual fetishes, for instance, gets half the sympathy the author reserves for OCD or Gender Identity Disorder—Davis still manages to grant every diagnosis its unique personality.
In Relapse, for instance, actress Sarah Fichtman sits primly in a chair and warbles, “I’ve cut off ties with all active users/my friends are sober, too,” before a surprise visit by her nagging mother literally pushes her back to the bottle. In the outstanding Multiple Personality Disorder, four friends present a birthday cake to a fifth, but are unable to cut it because every tool—even, hysterically, a spoon—reminds someone of a former trauma. And in the fascinating skit for Schizophrenia, Ron Nummi sings plaintively about society’s desire to hide him away, while the usually vampy nurse Adriene Couvillon breaks down and weeps—a memorable moment ripe with social implication.
These intimate glimpses are broken up with choreographer Matthew Neff’s eclectic dance routines (an entry for Yuppie Disorder, for instance, has all the dancers performing yoga in unison), which allow the cast’s generous performance talents to shine. Mike Harrison’s vocals soar in Urophilia, as the cast wraps him in a yellow lame curtain and showers him with ribbons, while a bright red wig and multiple feather boas render Eddie Cooper absurdly glamorous in Kleptomania.
Crazy Head Space makes no bones about its politics. “We will not be stigmatized, we will not be marginalized” the whole twenty-seven-member cast sings in the closing number, as the nurse cuts the inpatient bracelet from every wrist. Viewers who have been through some of the difficulties depicted here or who crave greater liberation in human thought will appreciate the levity Davis brings to this subject. A portion of the proceeds go to benefit Creative Alternatives of New York, a non-profit that offers drama therapy to victims of trauma.