Review of GOOD EGG by Dorothy Fortenberryby Jennifer Siciliano on 11/09/10
Sunday night I had the fortune of seeing the last production of the run of Dorothy Fortenberry's, play, GOOD EGG, shown by the Red Fern Theatre Company in NYC. I wasn't sure what to expect. Coming into the theatre as a bipolar myself-- considering myself mentally well, balanced and recovered-- I was leery as I usually am just before I digest someone else's version of the bipolar narrative. But from the onset as the play opens with a monologue giving exposition to the history of mental illness "science," I bought in. The story is Meg's, the responsible non-bipolar sibling played convincingly and poetically authentic by Andrea Day. Day's honest embodiment of the classic perfectionist with an obsession for control and seeming addiction to normalcy is impeccable throughout the play. Through a sweet detachment, Meg unveils the past damage that lurks beneath the memories of her childhood, in which both her deceased father and now her brother, Matt, were unmanageable bipolars. Matt is played by Dan McCabe with stunning accuracy and visceral honesty. He shows that he has explored the bipolar subject intimately, and he fairly portrays both the depression and mania embedded in Matt's character. In a brilliant monologue that Fortenberry nails, McCabe is as vulnerable as an actor gets, and he does justice to the playwright's attempt to share not only the human side of bipolar disorder, but also the scientific realities and questions about the illness.
Fortenberry tells her story through the clever technique of juxtaposition and foil, which helps the audience feel both sympathy and repulsion for the chaotic but artistically passionate Matt as well as the dependable but perfectionistic Meg. As Meg consistently reminds Matt that he was the problem child, she also reveals the loneliness in her life that she is trying to erase with her decision to have a child. And understandably, she wishes to secure a healthier, better, and happier life for her offspring. She takes the route of artificial insemination, and luckily, her embryos can undergo genetic testing for a variety of diseases, one of which is bipolar disorder-- (the "defective" gene in the play's world has just recently been located). Matt is appalled that she would do such a thing-- test for her brother's and her father's faulty genes, which have created the bipolar chaos in their lives but also the adventurous experiences, excitement and fun that Matt adored growing up while Meg despised. As an example, their father in the middle of one night woke Matt up to take a drive to Lake Michigan with no particular reason to do so except to look at the black sky. Matt adored him for the sublime experience, but Meg recollects how "he should have been home with his family!" -suggesting dad's lack of responsibility and unreasonable behavior that proved very damaging to Meg.
Matt believes in taking risks, in loving your child despite flaws rather than getting everything you want in a child to still be dissatisfied. He tries to change Meg's mind in going through with the genetic test, and in a vain attempt to prove to her that the bipolar issue might not be that problematic after all, he chooses to go off his medication-- (a move that is so consistently common in the bipolar community, that it is practically included as a symptom in the DSM). But as the illness would have it, Matt loses his footing, and in just weeks, his bipolar symptoms resurface causing his life to once again come crashing down in pieces.
The direction by Kel Haney is particularly clever, and her treatment of the subject is carefully respectful yet honest. She could very well have exploited the drama of bipolar behavior throughout, but instead saves the volume for the end with a potent payoff. She styles the play within the minimalistic, natural setting of a homey, comfortable living room, (where both Meg and Matt live), to which everyone in the audience can relate as being friendly and safe. And when the forth wall is effectively broken by taking the monologues into the audience, she allows the audience to be personally educated-- something that is absolutely needed since every given cross-section of our society possesses such a gross lack of knowledge on the subject, which unfortunately only perpetuates the stigma of mental illness.
My only dissatisfaction with the play is how it ends in Matt turning violent, being kicked out on his own never to be heard from again, which once again affirms the supposition that bipolar disorder is impossible to live with and to have a normal, stable life. Here the audience indubitably sides with Meg: She is right all the way, Matt is clearly nuts, how sorry Meg's life has been for having to be forced to be his caretaker and give up her youth. And yet, I understand why Fortenberry commits to it. The dramatic climax is vital to the play to make the ultimate point-- that this is a serious illness that needs proper treatment and management. But does the audience walk away with the idea that bipolar healing is actually possible? I would say no, and that makes me sad. With Meg's comment that begs Matt to share with her evidence that a bipolar can live a normal life, I feel as though that is the statement that the audience rests their final conclusion on. But for Fortenberry, her truth is there, like it or not, honest for the world to see and very real in many bipolar families. The most important thing here is that people begin the conversation about the illness.
Lastly, after Meg has undergone the genetic testing and has chosen her two perfectly healthy girl specimens to be implanted in her womb, she is practically devastated that a human error has occurred in which the medical team accidentally implanted a boy egg, albeit a healthy non-bipolar one, but unassigned by Meg nonetheless. The image of a plan gone wrong shakes the very core of Meg's obsessive need for control, and with that, we see that even the normal people may never learn to be truly happy.
For the production of this very relevant and important play, I thank both the executive artistic director of Red Fern Theatre Company, Melanie Moyer Williams, and for the partnership with The Family Center for Bipolar Disorder-- an organization that is dedicated to the support, treatment and understanding of bipolar disorder within the context of the family. Through compassion they recognize that preserving family health and stability is an essential part of successful treatment.
Red Fern Theatre Company: www.redferntheatre.org
Playwright Dorothy Fortenberry: www.dorothyfortenberry.com
Director Kel Haney: www.kelhaney.com
The Family Center for Bipolar Disorder: www.bpfamily.org/home