Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I Got Sick Then I Got Better

"I Got Sick Then I Got Better" presented by New York Theatre Workshop at 4th Street Theatre, October 30, 2009

(photo: Chad Batka)

Women's health issues are the basis for at least five theatre pieces currently onstage in New York City. Carrie Fisher is fighting mental illness and alcoholism at Studio 54 in Wishful Drinking. Anna Deavere Smith is battling the health care system at Second Stage in Let Me Down Easy. Kelly Samara is dancing her way through dependency on pain killers at TBG Theatre in ...Being Patient. And, Jenny Allen is recovering from cancer courtesy of the New York Theatre Workshop in I Got Sick Then I Got Better.

Ms. Allen's friend James Lapine along with Darren Katz has directed this 80 minute tale of illness and recovery. She enters the theatre while the houselights are still up, chatting with members of the audience in the small house of the 4th St Theater. She transitions into the piece fairly smoothly, but promises a few more laughs in her introduction than she ends up delivering.

Her story is deeply personal and she shares freely, but more often than not it feels significantly more cathartic for her than the audience. She's great with one-liners, describing her cancer surgeon as "a brunette Ann Coulter," and describing herself in the midst of chemo "...looked like a dandelion going to seed."

She speaks sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes condescendingly of her feckless, unperceptive husband and typically teen-aged daughter. She reveals her mother's life-long battle with mental illness. She confesses that she enjoyed the anger and suffering she endured through her plight.

All of this draws appropriate empathy when she shares an oddly touching story of how she resolves her anger in the parking lot of LL Bean.

In the end, the evening felt more like a recitation, similar to Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, well-written but not really "asking" to be staged.

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