Crazy Head Space
nytheatre.com review by Nicole Higgins
March 12, 2009
Not knowing exactly what to expect of a rock musical exploration of the DSM IV, I'm sure I was not expecting such a bright optimistic opening, but I'm so glad of it. It really makes a statement. We are here to entertain you, it says. Relax and let us do our thing.
Let me explain. DSM stands for the Diagnostic Statistical Manual; IV is the latest revision. It is a medical reference with the very latest criteria (lists of symptoms A-Z) used as a guide to help doctors diagnose mental illnesses. Instead of going dark with such material, which would be expected, composer-lyricist Liz S. Davis and composer Michelangelo Sosnowitz have chosen the light. Popsicle colors and a riot of club kids "take the piss" (I quote the lyrics of the final song) out of the DSM. Under the circumstances a lot of us are in these days, am I guilty in saying it was a relief not to have to sit through an hour and a half of heavy? Which isn't to say Crazy Head Space totally stays in the nuthouse safety zone, but I'll get to that later.
As it promises, Crazy Head Space is a musical tour of psychological disorders running from A (addiction) to Z (zoophilia). 26(!) songs or songlettes, not including the opening and closing numbers, take the audience on a journey through some of the more well-known mental illnesses like depression to some I might have never have given thought to before, like urophilia for example, a sexual disorder in which a person derives sexual excitement from urine or urination. To me this song had one of the most genuinely funny chorus lines of the entire evening: "You're in over your head." I love a good pun and a bad one even more so.
Not to disparage the wonderful and much needed space run by Dog Run Rep, but I so much wanted there to be more room for this massive cast and its audience. Intimacy is great, and it worked to keep us almost in the action on stage, but I wanted to behold the great swath of colored humanity and riot of lines; to take it all in at the same time, which was impossible, and made for over-stimulation, but perhaps that was the point.
Truly this is an ensemble production. Each of the songs is taken up by one or more of the chorus with the other actors, singers, and dancers serving to create an atmosphere of bedlam, with very rare quiet moments. It is a great choice to have dancers as the emotional backbone of this piece weaving the songs together. Serving as representations of whatever moods the songs require, they create an energetic presence, never letting the flow falter, buoying the play forward through the list. Choreographer Matthew Neff does a fantastic job with director Errickson Wilcox in realizing this piece, using every conceivable ounce of space to advantage.
As for this being "a theatrical tribute to people living with mental illness," I can't say for sure. But it is amusing, doesn't take itself too seriously, and doesn't slide too far into stereotyping, which is ridiculously hard not to do under the circumstances. That said, within all the whipped up loony larks there are some appropriately dark touches, namely the song about schizophrenia, which I personally found very moving.
I should also mention that Abraxas intends that a portion of ticket proceeds for Crazy Head Space will be dedicated to Creative Alternatives of New York (CANY). CANY is a nonprofit that fosters drama therapy groups at many sites throughout the Tri-State area, providing therapy to youth in crisis, in-patient care, veterans, victims of domestic violence, and other traumatized groups in need of ongoing mental and emotional support.