Balk at giving some spare change to the guy who walks around talking to himself? How about inviting him over to stay at your place? Maybe he can bring a couple of friends? Get past the shock, and you might even have a few laughs. Well, at least if you’re Victoria, the sweet but scattered soon-to-be-ex-wife of a psychiatrist who finds herself playing host to three patients from the nearby mental hospital when it burns down.
The fun that ensues forms the basis of the Elmira Theatre Company comedy opening next week, From Here to Insanity, written by Caroline Russell-King.
Two of the visitors welcomed by Victoria (Sue Parr) have multiple personalities (ETC newcomers Kimberly Young as Sarah/Gladys/Lola and Rob Gray as James/Rita) and the third only communicates through sound effects (Michael Grant as Benny). The rapid switches from one character to the next provide fertile material, and Benny’s method of relating to others is ripe with opportunities for physical comedy.
Beyond that, however, there’s a touching story about human relationships, said director Ken Harkes, drawn to the play when he first read it some eight years ago and feeling the time was now right to stage it here.
“From a director’s point of view, this one has got a little more meat in it. It’s more than just a comedy,” he explained. “It’s about people who are fighting to regain some type of self-worth, self-esteem.”
Along with the laughs, there’s a take-away message that we should be a little less hasty about judging other people.
“These people – like many of us – are searching desperately to find the one that needs us,” said Harkes, noting that need is universal.
Conveying the gamut of emotions beyond just going for laughs makes the roles more challenging for the actors. For the two playing characters with multiple personalities, there’s the trick of shifting instantly from one completely different person to the next – no offstage change of costumes or quick jump to another scene, but on-the-spot transformation.
“When I first read this play eight years ago, it interested me because of the challenge facing the actors to be able to instantly “flip” into other characters while on stage,” Harkes said in his director’s notes. “I was also intrigued by the fun idea of using only sound effects to communicate. As I examined the play and learned about the lives of the characters, it became very obvious to me that it is about much more than that.”
While From Here to Insanity is a work of fiction, it reflects some of what has really happened in the last couple of decades as previously institutionalized patients were released and those newly diagnosed with mental illnesses were left to integrate with the public instead of ending up in hospitals.
The play is in fact something of a period piece, set in 1986. The set reflects the era, as does the music. Right from the opening of the doors, the music looks to recreate 1986 and, echoing the theme of the play, starts out cold and becomes warmer as the relationships develop, Harkes explained.
The Elmira Theatre Company production of From Here to Insanity runs Feb. 5-14, including ETC’s first-ever Saturday matinees. Performances are set for Thursday (Feb. 5), Fridays (Feb. 6 and 12) and Saturdays (Feb. 7 and 14) at 8 p.m. There are two Saturday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $18, available through the Centre In The Square box office by calling 519-578-1570 or online at www.centre-square.com. All performances are at 76 Howard Ave. in Elmira.