“3Christs” at the Judson Memorial Church (Closed on Sunday September 28, 2014)

September 7, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by S. M. Dale and Barry Rowell
Directed by Kelly O’Donnell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Something goes terribly wrong after the opening scene of “3Christs” the site-specific play about three delusional patients at a state psychiatric hospital each who believes he is the “one and only Christ.” As each of the three patients enters the stage constructed in the sanctuary of the Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan, each actor quickly defines his character with precision and creates a persona that is believable and identifiable.

Donald Warfield’s Clyde Benson is wiry, wily, and reeks of insecurity and cynicism: his Christ, however, is confident and crafty. Arthur Aulisi’s Joseph Cassel is fraught with tics that tighten his face and body: his Christ, however, is confident and witty. Daryl Lathon’s Leon Gabor is a delusional delight who paces about and marks his territory carefully: his Christ, however, is cautious and often confused.
As each enters, he interacts with Nurse Parker (Catherine Porter) whose activities skillfully elucidate further the peculiar attributes of each Christ.

The ride becomes bumpy when visiting psychologist Dr. Milton (Christopher Hurt) enters to begin his study of the three Christs to “see what happens when a person’s belief in his identity is challenged by someone claiming the same identity.” In a series of 25 scenes covering 775 days of interaction with the three delusional patients, Dr. Milton and his cohorts Dr. Yoder (Mick Hilgers) and Dr. Anderson (Jennifer Tsay) perform a battery of “magic tricks” for/on the patients in the attempt to coerce them to divest themselves of their delusional behavior. They interview, medicate (over and under and with placebo), manipulate and trick their clients without mercy. Dr. Milton tells Nurse Parker:

“I can’t do it to [Clyde]…. and perhaps… well, maybe a control will be useful for us. I’ve considered the ethics of our approach and I believe the men’s defenses are powerful enough to counter any potential threat. Plus, our impersonations of their delusional referents will be emotionally gratifying and supportive.” And the good doctor confesses, “Human beings? One thinks he’s a penniless millionaire, one calls himself [explicative deleted], and the third works in the cause of an empire that no longer exists. They’re unhappy caricatures of human beings.”

Christopher Hurt seems uncomfortable in his role as Dr. Milton – a role pivotal to the success of S. M. Dale’s and Barry Rowell’s script. Is does not seem Mr. Hurt has been able to find his character and apparently director Kelly O’Donnell has not assisted him in that process. Ms. O’Donnell also allows her three Christs to fall into and out of their characters: their identities falter throughout and only Mr. Warfield seems able to maintain a reasonable semblance of his character.

Kia Rogers’s lighting design is adequate given the constraints on the performance space. Rebecca Phillips set design is problematic: the main entrance/exit to/from the stage is a working door that is too narrow to accommodate the wheeled cart that moves in and out carrying a variety of props and players. When actors attempt to move the cart through the door the entire stage left wall of the meeting room shakes; and at one point it appears the wall will come tumbling down. This visual and auditory intrusion makes the suspension of disbelief difficult. Angela Harner’s costumes are appropriate and she does her best to create the unnecessary magician and magician’s assistant costumes.

So what is learned here? What should have been clear from the beginning, that “Unlike the atomic physicist, we cannot control the reactions of others. I think we learned that psychotics, having good reason to flee human companionship, actually crave it.” Also, according to Bertrand Russell (via Dr. Milton the 4th Christ), “Every man would like to be God, if it were possible; some few find it difficult to
admit the impossibility.” It took the playwrights, the director, and the actors far too long to get to those realizations.