Posts Tagged ‘amy crider’

Locked Ward
by Amy Crider
Directed by Phil Gill
First Run Theatre
August 14, 2022

Uche Ijei, Ethan Isaac
Photo: First Run Theatre

The title of First Run Theatre’s latest production, Locked Ward, is fairly straightforward, since it takes place in a locked ward at a psychiatric hospital. Still, there’s more to this story than its initial premise, with its clearly defined characters and an intriguing degree of mystery that works on several different levels. Currently on stage at the Kranzberg Black Box, this production is brought to life by a fine cast and simple but effective production values. 

The story, inspired by the playwright’s personal experience, takes place in a psychiatric ward inhabited by a variety of patients who are there for different reasons. Although it’s essentially an ensemble piece, the biggest focus appears to be on Glen (Ethan Isaac), a former police officer and recovering drug addict who doesn’t quite trust the insights and advice of psychiatrist Dr. Blumenthal (Jaz Tucker). Glen is convinced he knows what his problem is, but the doctor wants to explore additional possibilities, making Glen uncomfortable and suspicious. Glen enters the ward to join the “regulars” who all have strong, distinct personalities–there’s the rigidly programmatic Franklin (Duncan Phillips), who is most comfortable with a strict routine and whose role model is Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock. There’s also Vladimir (Stephen Thompson Sr.), a Russian immigrant who wants to get out of the hospital so he make a fresh start in life, but who resists taking his meds and distrusts the establishment; and Jill (Jalani Hale), an intelligent but insecure aspiring doctoral student in art history, who has a crush on the doctor and endures regular ECT treatments that effect her memory. The newest patient besides Glen is Eleanor (Uche Ijei), who is only there for a short time under observation while she tries out a new medication to treat her depression. She and Glen form something of a bond as a new mystery unfolds–a well-liked nurse dies suddenly, and the patients try to figure out what happened. 

The biggest strengths of this play are the relationships between the characters and the unfolding mystery plot, as the characters try to figure out what’s happening and the medical staff urge them not to get too involved. The playwright does an excellent job of portraying the mystery on a few different levels, exploring the patients’ perspective as well as challenging the audience to wonder who to believe and what to think. The characters’ interactions are also richly portrayed, as conflicts are explored, bonds are made, and characters challenge and encourage one another. There’s no sensationalism here, either, which is also a strength, and the actors portray the disparate personalities with clarity and energy, and a good deal of ensemble chemistry.

The whole cast is strong, with convincing performances from Isaac as the conflicted, stubborn Glen, Ijei as the kindhearted Eleanor, Hale as the weary, self-doubting Jill, Thompson as the opinionated Vladimir, Phillips as the determinedly regimented Franklin, and Tucker as the enigmatic Dr. Blumenthal. Special mention should go to stage manager Gwynneth Rausch, who stepped in on short notice in the role of occupational therapist Linda, with the principal performer (Lillie Weber) out due to illness. All of the players work together to portray a credibly realistic situation with occasional elements of mystery.

The production values here aren’t flashy, but work well for the story. The basic set by Brad Slavik and atmospheric lighting by Tony Anselmo serve the plot well.  In terms of pacing, there were a few too many blackout scenes that could be jarring at times, and sometimes the tone could be overly relaxed, but for the most part the storytelling is effective, especially when focusing on the characters’ relationships. This play does deal with the subject of mental illness and many of the struggles that go with that topic, so appropriate warnings were given in the pre-show announcements. Overall, Locked Ward is a compelling look at a world many people don’t get to see, with convincing and sympathetic characters and situations. It’s a promising new play as presented by First Run Theatre. 

Image: First Run Theatre

First Run Theatre is presenting Locked Ward at the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre until August 21, 2022

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Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust
by Amy Crider
Directed by Sarah Lynne Holt
The Midnight Company
May 30, 2019

Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Todd Davis
The Midnight Company


Joe Hanrahan has a knack for finding one-man shows that work for him, when he doesn’t write them himself. St. Louis’s king of the solo play has located another fascinating piece for his latest Midnight Company production. Directed by Sarah Lynne Holt, Amy Crider’s one-act called Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust provides a good showcase for Hanrahan as well as providing questions for all of its viewers to ponder.

The play’s premise involved the 75-year-old Charlie (Hanrahan) who, in response to a question by his wife/partner’s daughter-in-law, decides to read the entire 7 volume set of Marcel Proust’s work known as Remembrance of Things Past, or In Search of Lost Time. He begins the exercise with the goal of simply being able to discuss the books with his relative and show her that he is able to understand them, but as he reads and continues to read, he begins to learn more about himself. His stories become more and more personal as he continues to read, becoming less about Proust’s recounted memories and more about his own. Munching on Madeline cookies and recounting memories of his time in the military, his relationships with his late first wife Katherine, his current partner Bonnie (the play isn’t clear if they’re married or not), his daughter, his grandson, and more, we see a picture of an essentially “traditional” man who has consistently been challenged to question his traditional mindset. It’s a very specific story, but with wide-ranging applications that many audience members will be able to relate to, from the very first question Charlie is asked–“what’s your Madeleine Moment?”  The explanation for that question is explained in the play if you haven’t read the source material, but it’s the one question that I think will be talked about the most.

It’s an engaging play with a character who is sometimes easy to relate to, and sometimes more difficult to understand. Hanrahan, with his usual charm and presence, lends a lot of sympathy to Charlie without covering over his obtuseness. It’s a role that seems tailor-made for Hanrahan, although sometimes I think he could have been even stuffier at the beginning so that his personal lessons and revelations would have had more power. Still, it’s a compelling portrayal, and the technical aspects of the production lend just the right atmosphere to the storytelling, with a simple and “lived in” set design by Chuck Winning along with excellent lighting by Tony Anselmo and simple, effective staging by director Sarah Lynne Holt.

Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust  is a brief play, despite its long title and the even longer source material. It’s a little over an hour with no intermission, but a lot of story happens in that short period of time, even though I wish there had been more resolution to some of the situations, and especially Charlie’s relationship with his daughter. Overall, it’s a thought-provoking show featuring another strong performance by Hanrahan, and it’s sure to have audiences wondering about their own “Madeleine Moments”, and possibly even reading Proust for themselves. It’s a fine example of how literature can impact everyday life, especially in unexpected ways.

The Midnight Company is presenting Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust at the Kranzberg Arts Center until June 15, 2019

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