Spoiler Alert: This review reveals plot points about the medical mystery
Want to get inside a woman’s brain?
The world premiere Animal, by British playwright Clare Lizzimore, part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, allows you to do just that. Staged in close quarters and in the round by director Gaye Taylor Upchurch, Studio Theatre audiences get a mind’s-eye view of the turbulence and trickery going on inside the head of Rachel (Kate Eastwood Norris), an English woman undergoing a psychotic episode.
We’re right in there with the demons and disembodied voices knocking around Rachel’s cranium—fighting them off and listening to their disquieting chatter alongside Rachel, who wears a knit cap like a security blanket meant to keep the madness from bursting from the top of her head.
This is one tortured soul. Hallucinating, paranoid and anxious, Rachel is reduced to a near-feral state as she grapples with the psychosis—withdrawing from everyone and everything around her, including her supportive husband Tom (Cody Nickell) and psychiatrist Stephen (Joel David Santner).
On the other hand, her delusions walk right in and take a chair—an eerily poised Little Girl (Anais Killian), a cheeky phantasm (Michael Kevin Darnall) who reminds Rachel that she’s still a desirable woman and an Older Woman (Rosemary Regan) babbling, helpless and needy in her wheelchair.
Eastwood Norris is so itchily convincing as Rachel that you may notice Xanax profits suddenly rising in the D.C. metro market. Eastwood Norris has that horrible, bewildered look of a normally sharp woman suddenly trapped in a brain she no longer recognizes. Her thoughts betray her, visions and voices cannot be trusted and she scrabbles for survival.
It is only in the latter part of Animal that you find out that Rachel is suffering from post-partum psychosis, but any woman who has experience with the hormonal inferno that accompanies childbirth may recognize Rachel’s condition earlier.
Other than the fact that it creates an atmosphere of a medical mystery, why be so coy and circumspect? Is it because a woman not being an uber-mother from the get-go is so against nature, so taboo that we cannot speak its name until the very end?
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
September 30 – October 25
1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
1 hour, 20 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $20 – $40
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Well, piss on that, as the English say. Why pander to conventional thought that anything less than over-the-moon, googly-eyed devotion to a baby is shameful stuff and that women are victims of their reproductive system.
Why not be a straight shooter rather than annoyingly vague? Rachel’s not a serial killer, she’s a new mother and post-partum depression and psychosis are more normal than society is willing to admit. Who wouldn’t be nucking futs becoming a new Mom in middle age? It doesn’t need the cloak and dagger treatment, which is rather insulting and pandering.
This approach also turns husband Tom into a paragon of patience and empathy and psychiatrist Stephen into a gallant on a quest to calm Rachel’s mind while she’s just left there spinning and helpless. The English accents are also distancing and you wonder why they were deemed necessary in a play that does not seem very site specific.
Animal is a strange animal—a textbook rendering of a psychotic episode that is riddled with guilt and shame.
Animal by Clare Lizzimore . Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch . Featuring Kate Eastwood Norris, Cody Nickell, Joel David Santner, Michael Kevin Darnall, Rosemary Regan, Anais Killian . Set Design: Rachel Hauck . Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard . Lighting Design: Jesse Belsky . Sound Design: Daniel Kluger . Dramaturg: Adrien-Alice Hansel . Stage Manager: Allie Roy . Produced by Studio Theatre. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.