This holiday season has me more moody than I can ever remember at this time of year. Part of it is just missing departed loved ones more. And then, well, just about everything going on in the world seems to be stupid right about now.
So early Saturday afternoon, as we rode the Blue Line to The Gift Theater in Jefferson Park, I wondered if attending “Good for Otto” — a play that focuses on people’s struggles with depression and other mental health challenges — was such a good idea.
It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
First, the backstory. Beth’s posted here before about The Gift Theater, and its co-founder Michael Patrick Thornton. The short of it is, Thornton befriended the renowned Tony-winning playwright David Rabe years ago. And when Rabe wrote “Good for Otto,” he chose to make its world premiere not in New York, not at the Goodman or Steppenwolf here in Chicago, but at The Gift.
The theater itself is tiny. It’s a storefront theater, to be sure — but it must have been a very small store. The production features an alley set — that is, a bank of people (two rows here) sit on one side of the stage, and two rows sit opposite. Each side of the audience faces the other as the players carry on in the middle. And you do see each other’s reactions.
The main stage was the same floor our chairs sat on. One of the therapist’s chair used throughout the performance sat not four feet from Beth and me, and we had to mind our own dogs not to obstruct actors as they came and went.
And they came and went in that tiny space a lot — 15 of them — impossibly and gracefully thanks to an ingenious loft staging.
I’ll spare details — not for fear of letting a spoiler out — it’s not the kind of play that can be spoiled. I’ll say this: It runs three hours. I never last three hours at these things. But I wanted the intermission to end so I could get back to all these people. They are troubled. But there are laughs. A lot of them, and they’re all laugh with but not at.
Don’t take my word for it — read this glowing review in the NY Times — yes the Times had a reviewer go to a theater that holds 47 people and is located in a relatively obscure (but charming) neighborhood in Chicago. Even better (to us locals) is Chris Jones’ review in the Chicago Tribune.
If you’re in the Chicago area and love theater, go. It’s a gift (sorry). And it’s been extended until February 7.
If you’re not a theater buff but have experienced depression or other mental health struggles — or have been close to someone who has (in other words, everybody else on earth): Go!
In the play’s array of portrayals of struggling characters you may well see bits and pieces of yourself or a loved one or friend who has struggled in the same ways. And that may be uncomfortable, but to me — and clearly it was for other audience members — it was an opportunity to connect, and to not feel alone.
More than anything, for people who have struggled with mood issues or brain chemistry, the play makes clear that the struggle is worth it.
Happy Holidays everyone.