A Kind Asylum | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Kind Asylum 

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A Kind Asylum, Organic Theater Company. Julie Brudlos's new play about the conversion of a psychiatric hospital into a prison is thoroughly unpersuasive. Worse, it's uninteresting. Encasing reflections about the treatment of the mentally ill in a soap opera about doctors in love, she diminishes both her sociopolitical views and her characters, creating a work that's laborious without being rigorous.

The venerable Mike Nussbaum plays Isaiah, a self-described "agoraphobic psychiatrist who grew up in a mental hospital." At 60 he's still overshadowed professionally by his late father and haunted by the loss of his wife to the husband of a colleague, Frieda (dutifully limned by Maureen Gallagher). Awkward voice-overs represent father, wife, and other figures and events from the past while leaden radio broadcasts about, say, the fall of the Berlin Wall convey needlessly complicated time shifts. The ostensible love affair between Isaiah and Frieda shows no signs of passion; obvious metaphors, like Mont-Saint-Michel ("a fortress to keep the world out that actually imprisons those within"), are beaten to death; and in the ludicrous climactic speech, Isaiah's own mental illness is tied to the fact that his dog died.

The only saving graces are Anthony LeMay and Kati Brazda, playing the kind of holy-fool insane people playwrights love. Though their characters are disgraceful stereotypes, LeMay infuses his with dignity and restraint while the luminous Brazda enlivens every stage on which she appears.

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