Welcome to the Asylum! In Shakespeare’s day, thrill seekers had a choice between catching a show at the Globe and viewing the lunatics in Bedlam, the setting for more than one Jacobean play. So it is perhaps fitting that BEDLAM: SHAKESPEARE IN REHAB takes its audience members, cast as philanthropists interested in women’s health, on a tour of a ramshackle mental hospital where they observe the treatment of seven Shakespeare heroines suffering from maladies ranging from Ophelia’s (Betty Montgomery) bipolar disorder (with psychotic features) to Viola (Brittnie Knight) and Rosalind’s (Madison Auch) gender dysphoria.
Each patient’s room is unique, a testament to the masterful and innovative set design (Kate Elise). Desdemona (Jess Otterbine) angrily toys with flowers left by a suitor while protesting her fidelity to Othello. Lady Macbeth (Elise D’Avella) smears blood on the floor amidst a forest of flickering lamps (lighting design by Christen Mandracchia). Rosalind and Viola play catch in front of a bulletin board scrawled with reasons to hate the patriarchy and a half completed game of hangman with the message “gender is a social construct.” The patients speak to us directly, seamlessly melding quotations from the plays with modern commentary. A scratchy loudspeaker alternately cajoles and disciplines them, emphasizing the dehumanizing nature of institutionalization. Although much of play is monologue, the best moments occur when the characters interact with each other, with us, and with their faceless therapist.
[St John the Baptist Church, 146 Rector St] September 9-17, 2016; fringearts.com/bedlam-shakespeare