January 30-February 1 & February 5-8
Atlantic Wharf @ 7:30
290 Congress Street, Boston, MA
Ocean City Center for the Arts @ 7:30
502 94th Street, Ocean City, MD
Review by Kitty Drexel
Trigger Warning: Panic Attacks, emotional violence, minor physically violent episodes – While the majority of the events are non-violent, actions depicted on stage may also trigger PTSD.
(Boston, MA) I must caution that extra-sensitive individuals or individuals with a negative associations with in-patient mental health facilities carefully consider attending Echoes. I mention this because the acting is very good, very realistic and, for this reason, potentially triggering. The play by N. Richard Nash focuses on the how the brain copes with trauma when faced with an unsafe reality. It is also about taking the first impossibly difficult steps from that reality towards treatment. This is difficult enough in real life. This production may impede the good work one has done outside of the theatre. Not attending this production falls under the category of “self-care to stay safe and stable.” Everyone else and their Mom’s uncle’s sister should attend.
Tilda (Angela Jaymes) and Sammy (Mac Young) are in a white room. In this room, they play pretend games and enjoy each other’s company all day. They would be content if it weren’t for The Person (Kelly Chick). The Person interrupts their games and threatens their well-being. The Person is bad… But we aren’t told why. In order to be together, Tilda and Sam must prevent The Person from coming between them in their small but happy world of imaginary Christmas trees and baseball. This works until Sam has a traumatic episode and The Person intervenes.
We are made aware that Tilda and Sam are patients in a mental health facility almost immediately. The costumes are a big clue. Tilda’s youthful innocence is another. The one-way mirror through which they are observed by The Person is what brings the audience up to speed. The biggest detractor from this conclusion is the patients’ obliviousness to their confinement. Tilda and Sam don’t know where they are but they mostly don’t care because they can’t remember anything before the white room.
There is a science fiction-like “otherness” to Tilda’s and Sam’s disassociation with their personal histories. Like Adam & Eve, they don’t know where they came from but they’re happy to play in their Eden until danger appears. Knowing that these two people are content with their reality before we meet The Person is part of what makes their eventual fall from grace so traumatic. Because this isn’t Eden, because they are patients in a mental health facility, their panic attacks and violent episodes are painful to watch. Their happy delusion is our happy delusion. The Person isn’t just a caretaker in a facility. She is the viper come to tempt Adam and Eve with knowledge of life beyond their room.
Jaymes and Young do an excellent job with the script. Echoes would be much easier to watch if they weren’t so realistic in their portrayals. Together they trip an uneasy line between stability and instability. In particular, Jaymes’ crisp, almost wholesome insanity wreaks havoc on the hearts of the audience. When she unhinges, she does so in thudding chunks and fistfuls.
Nash’s script is well researched, emotionally and experientially true but far too long. The audience is hit with a barrage of manic episodes and reality slips that would be more effective if there were fewer of them. Once we understand where and how Tilda and Sam are, the audience didn’t need the constant reminders that they are unbalanced. That part we get. What we didn’t get until it was almost too late to care was why Tilda, Sam and The Person are in this environment or how things could resolve. Don’t meander to a point, tell us what we need to know while you have our attention.
In severe mental illness situations, the patient might not be able to trust what they are feeling. It can get mighty pointless trying to suss out what is true and what is the illness playing cruel tricks. Watching Echoes was a bit like watching the Buffy episode of “Normal Again:” We come to care deeply about our cast. We are traumatized because we can do nothing for Tilda and Sam except watch. This might not be a safe production for those needing treatment, but it opens the right kind of dialogue to get people who’ve never experienced a crippling mental illness to start talking.
*Cream, “White Room”