Fertile Ground Review: ‘Therapy Hunger’

Is that a drug in your med kit, or are you just trying to heal me?

It’s a risky proposition to write a show and then star in it; riskier still to pick a highly personal theme that could cast you in unflattering light. Cassandra Boice braves that vulnerability for Therapy Hunger, a show that initially pokes fun at psychiatric medicine, and then probes it uncomfortably.

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Over the last year or so, Post5 company member Boice’s stage presence has been multifaceted. She’s been gorgeous, graceful and feminine in Arabian Nights; she’s been steely and cunning as Lady Macbeth. In the company where she is artistic director, HumanBeingCurious, she’s big on clowning and puppetry. Here, though, she’s enigmatic, maybe even withdrawn, playing an everywoman as the other actors, Chip Sherman and Maya Seidel, vamp characters.

In a series of skits, Boice plays a distressed woman in various therapy sessions that are unfortunately run by laughable quacks. A sex therapist (the hilariously officious Chip Sherman) cups his hand and whispers directly into her “vej-een.” An eating disorder counselor (the animated Maya Seidel) tears into a bag of Cheetos mid-sentence. A hippie healer (Seidel again) offers vague, pleasant mantras as a therapy for A.D.D., but then writes her a prescription to finish the job.

therapyhungerThese vignettes are certainly funny, but almost every interaction progresses the same way: Boice’s character plays along with each therapist’s odd requests, gradually realizing that they’re all as neurotic as she. Each session ends abruptly, with the therapist issuing a prescription. It’s a pattern. So is the (melo?) dramatic and prolonged finale, in which the three actors take turns aggressively scribbling and ripping a prescription pad while the others mime physical and mental distresses, clutching their stomachs and heads, retching and pacing. A hypnotic voice-over recites drug names in alphabetical order as we feel the patients’ pain.

Introduced by director Ty Boice as a “sound and fury” work rather than fully staged, this show has every right to be unfinished. Right now, it’s an intriguing series of moments, but compared to therapy narratives like Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation and super-blogger Allie Brosch’s depression comic in Hyperbole and a Half , there are some missing pieces.

In its present form, it’s unclear whether this show is personal or universal. If it’s personal, we need more real detail about Boice, or we need more fake detail about her character, Woman. Her character’s recitation of disorders could be brought to life with a personal story about how she experiences her distress, how it plays out in her daily life. Where she is when she panics. What she does (or doesn’t do) when she’s depressed….

On the other hand, if the show’s meant to be a universal comment, it’s still incomplete. In order to grapple with the issues more comprehensively and credibly, Boice would need to at least acknowledge the upside psych drugs provide, sometimes, for some people. To only show negative results in a universal comment is to…not gloss over, but scrape over, the subject. Maximally abrasive without being thorough.

So whether it’s personal or universal, Therapy Hunger needs to say more. Hopefully this in-process piece can take that trust-fall…without headache, fever, or shortness of breath.

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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