Friday, October 9, 2009

To make a teardrop: Question-marking psychiatry

Nope, he's not a big Question Mark and the Mysterians fan. Exactly the opposite, in fact. Lawrence Hennessey thinks the strange-but-kinda-groovy mid-'60s band, which scored a monster hit with "96 Tears," whose lead singer still claims to be a Martian, was "a pretty mediocre example of pop culture of the era," despite the presumably unintentional Kurt Weill thing it had going on. No, that's not why the Rockport clinical psychologist, who looks just a little bit like Dr. Phil, wrote his own "96 Tears," a play dealing with the politics and treatment of mental illness that will have its first public performance this weekend at the North Shore Readers Theatre Collaborative. Although the song's distinctive Vox organ lines do strike the right sonic cue ("disturbing, spooky and irritating at the same time," the playwright says) and the title nicely foreshadows what is to come, the point is to reference, somewhat obliquely, a moment in time when everything changed in the head-shrink business, when the pill became king and when treatment became, well, "somewhat lazy," is how the author puts it: "Quick fixes," he says, "come at a cost."

Set in 1966, the play follows a woman who has "a nervous breakdown." She gets the full treatment of pharmaceuticals and so-called electro-convulsive therapy, which lots of folks probably think had been discontinued after McMurphy got his in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but is still going strong today. The treatments make her more amenable to going home, but "for how long and at what cost," Hennessey asks. "The question is, have we done her any favors. We should be digging deeper." Does it reach any conclusions? "I hope not," the playwright says. "I hope people draw their own conclusion." He does admit, though, that his thumb is on the theatrical scales just a little bit: Nope, not a fan of Mysterians or psychotropics like thorazine, or quick fixes like Ritalin, or blanketing a world of neurotics in the fog of Prozac, with physicians immediately, instinctively reaching into their bag of chemical tricks. Not that he gets all in-your-face about it. "I can't say they're all bad," he says. "It's not all or nothing. They help some people, but I'm hoping the pendulum swings back a little." He's not under any illusions that it will. "The pharmaceutical business is a multitrillion dollar business worldwide," he says. "They won't go away too quickly."

Hennessey is new to the theater game, but "96 Tears" is not his first time out of the box: Five years ago, Independent Submarine founder Gregory S. Moss directed a production of his play "In the Service of the Hittites" at Jimmy Tingle's Off-Broadway. The play, which featured Port first-stringers Paul Wann and Bonnie Jean Wilbur, looks at a prospective shrink who is repeatedly unable to clear the final hurdle, the licensing exam, to begin his career, raising all sorts of questions in the process. ("I'm still basking in the glory," he says, sarcastically. The following year, a Lynn theater company mounted a staged reading of "Nuworld," his take on Huxley's "Brave New World" — a "totally out of control" production with hundreds of characters that he says could never realistically be staged, as entertaining as it might be. "96 Tears," also a staged reading, will feature Kathleen Henderson, Jack Ruston and Matt Kiely. It will be directed by Tim Diering.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative will present a staged reading of Lawrence Hennessey's "96 Tears" at 10 a.m. Oct. 10 at the Actors Studio, Mill #1, Suite 5 of the Tannery, Water and Federal streets. An audience talk-back session with the author follows. Tickets are $7. For more information, call 978.465.1229 or log onto the Actors Studio web.

No comments:

Post a Comment