There are a lot of plays in the canon about navigating mental illness. Even limiting ourselves to the contemporary ones, you find quite a few. “Next to Normal” is even set to music. But playwright Ryan Dancho is not just interested in examining what it’s like to live with mental illness so much as he’s asked us to explore, along with him, how someone might be expected to cope with someone else’s mental illness as well as their own simultaneously.
Mentally ill people will often find themselves, through group therapy or simply the laws of attraction, in the company of other mentally ill people. Depressives find each other accidentally as well as on purpose; recognizing each other from across a crowded room the way alcoholics do. Indeed, Jude, (Nick Webster) the mentally ill man around whom the action revolves in this play, is alcoholic in addition to having schizoaffective disorder. Skilled actor that he is, Webster makes Jude compelling to watch, though the character as written doesn’t seem to have many pleasant attributes.
Some research has suggested that there are five genetic markers present in people who express full-blown paranoid schizophrenia, but if someone has four of these markers, or even three, they may still exhibit quite a complicated mental illness that is often misdiagnosed and which often leads them to self-medicate with alcohol, marijuana, various other drugs, or sex-addiction. This seems to be the case not only with Jude, as schizoaffective, but, to a lesser degree, with Angelo (Jarvis Dewayne Griggs) a sex-addicted member of his therapy group, with bi-polar girlfriend Elle, who’s odd obsession with chronicling Jude’s illness is played with sad grace by Gabrielle Greer, and with 22-year old Brady, a suicidal Romeo played by Ryan Wesen. Rounding out the cast is Aaron Morton, playing therapist Dr. Weir, Alice Renier as Julianna, Jude’s ex-wife and mother of his daughter, and 12 year old Hailee Drew as Jude’s daughter Cindy.
I did find it a little odd that Morton’s character disappears three quarters of the way through the play – even though his patient ends the play back in a psych ward, there is no visit from Dr. Weir, and that abandonment seemed a tad unprofessional. There is an interesting device used where the two ostensibly sane characters, Julianna and daughter Cindy, are also playing hallucinatory versions of themselves as part of Jude’s disorder.
The central question the play seems to be asking is, when there is a “crazy person” in your life, what is the line that cannot be crossed? What would they need to do, or say, or be, that would cause another person to separate from them? And at what point are they not to be trusted to walk around in the world on their own recon? The play suggests that that line, for each person, might be in a different place, and where it’s drawn might even change over the course of knowing the patient.
Caught Dreaming will be performed again at the New York Summerfest in the Hudson Guild Theater, 441 West 26th Street, on Sunday, 7/30, 6:00 pm