Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Walls

By Lisa Dillman

The Walls

Directed by Magan Carney

Produced by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

At Steppenwolf Garage Theatre

The Walls is a haunting look into the world of insanity from a woman’s perspective.

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, as a part of a Steppenwolf Theatre visiting company initiative, presents the world premiere of Lisa Dillman’s The Walls. It is based on a book called Voices Behind the Walls: Women of the Asylum–a collection of stories about women incarcerated in mental asylums between 1940 and 1940. The result is a riveting and horrifying presentation of mental illness and how treatment of it varied over time.

Lisa Dillman’s play parallels two stories: one covers a series of three incarcerations of women in mental asylums dating from 1886, 1920’s and the late 1930’s while the other story features Carrie (Lacy Katherine Campbell) who is researching women in asylums.  She is trying to deal with her life with her bipolar mother that was so painful. Carrie becomes enticed by Lucy (Mierka Girten), one of her insane research subjects.

Dillman weaves a starling and realistic look into the world of insanity and how institutions treated in in different eras.  Woman in particular were blamed for their insanity during the late 19 and early 20th Century.  The movement from the past mental patient’s  stories back and forth to the present in Carrie’s story worked to build dramatic tension as we witness the deterioration into worsening insanity from each patient. The most effective profile of how insanity, particularly bipolar  disorder, progressively  destroys was powerfully performed by Maighan Gerachis as Virginia. Mierka Girten and Tara Mallen were also quite effective in presenting the manifestations of  insanity.

As Carrie’s story unfolds we see the devastating effects on her due to her mother’s insanity.  Playwright Dillman makes an indirect case for the inherited nature of mental illness as she hints that each of the women from the past could have been related. The timeliness fit and Carrie sure seems worried that she’ll eventually show signs of bipolar disorder like he mother.

This is an important glimpse into the effects of mental illness. Too often we don’t want to think about such possibilities. The fine line between creative genius and insanity often is blurred as we sometime wonder if one is insane or simply eccentric.  The Walls vividly demonstrates the progression of insane behavior. The Walls featured excellent acting, especially from Tara Mallen and Lucy Katherine Campbell. This show is powerfully moving theatre. Rivendell Theatre Ensemble continues to mount wonderful  productions giving a voice to women. The Walls is a ‘must see’ show.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-335-1650, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through June 20, 2009

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