Playwright: Tony Dallas
At: Keyhole Theatre at the Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell Ave.
Phone: 773-805-5055; $20
Runs through: Oct 15
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
In a playbill note, author Tony Dallas admits his inexperience at creating female protagonists. To be sure, the commission from the three-man/three-woman Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati did not prohibit him from writing a drama featuring his customary masculine hero at the center of the action, but Dallas appears to have welcomed the challenge of exploring gynocentric sensibilities.
So his private hospital's top supervising psychiatrist is a middle-aged woman. Despite her administrative position, she still sees patients—in this case, a suicidal young artist whose haunting images have already won her a reputation in gallery circles, but whose ambivalence toward her parents threatens her career. Well, of COURSE her iconography—reflected in surrealistic fantasies recalling Leonor Fini—is patently autobiographical. Of COURSE the shrink, whose own insecurities are immediately apparent, abandons all professional distance to take an ill-concealed maternal interest in this waif. And of COURSE, the warnings of rational ( male ) colleagues go unheeded as healer and cripple bond under shared obsession with repressed memories.
The suspension of disbelief required of this generic plot might be forgivable if employed in service of some philosophical thesis or original insight. But Dallas' play, allegedly written over a decade, never decides where it is, and thus never where it wants to go. A replica of the Willendorf Venus introduced early in the action leads us to anticipate anthropological themes, but these soon give way to suspicions that the sullen inmate may be manipulating the doctor's emotions to circumvent institutional authority. The secret of this dramatically provocative but credibility-stretching dynamic eventually grows so predictable that we pray for a surprise twist to jolt our expectations—in vain, as it turns out.
The Keyhole Theatre company strives mightily to render this drivel engaging ( or plausible, at least ) . Julie Mitre and Kelly Holden step briskly through their stereotypical paces, augmented by a stalwart supporting cast. And the carnival masks fashioned by Mandy Napper and Charles Riffenburg lend an eerie mystery to the tableaux illustrating dreams actual and artistic. But the adage about 'writing what you know' has never been more empirical than in this misguided mishmash of myth and melodrama.