Turn That Thing Around opens up mental illness

By admin Feb 17, 2015

Turn That Thing Around follows Illinois Wesleyan University student and playwright Aaron Woodstein’s autobiographical journey through a manic episode in response to taking an HIV test, ending in his diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Mental health is something that we need to make a part of everyday conversation. Depression affects at least 36 percent of college students to the extent of struggling simply to function (American College Health Association).

While under the great deal of stress that comes with deadlines, grades, jobs and trying to maintain friendships, it is no wonder that anxiety and depression are so common; yet the topic of mental health remains taboo, leaving students to believe that they are alone.

The show itself brought up a lot of issues and assumptions society has about mental health, and for that, I only wish it had been better expressed. Woodstein has a great deal of very important things to say about anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.  The point is clearly made that anyone could find themselves in the situation that he did.

Written in choppy, pseudo-scenes, the play takes the audience through the journey of a manic episode. Meant, at least somewhat, to be confusing, it certainly did its job. The only introductory framework we were given in performance was a quick introduction by the main character, Jack, saying “I thought I was going to die,” as he explains what we are seeing.

I understood the motivation for placing the audience inside the frantics of a manic episode, but the effort was lost in translation. The audience was pushed out by our inability to relate or understand without context.

Guided by an almost endless soundtrack, it was often difficult to distinguish one character from another (not aided by their matching scrubs) as well as one moment from the next.

It is worth noting that senior IWU student Luke McLoughlin created a stunning, fitting soundtrack, though it could have been better utilized to emphasize choice moments, which would have allowed the audience to gain a deeper appreciation for when it worked to the show’s advantage.

In general, it felt as if the show, which is filled with incredible potential, could have used a few more drafts in order to start the conversation that it has the ability to create.

The space itself (including a glass box that cost $4,741 and was funded through an online campaign) was more often than not ineffective, placing the very impressive box and LED boards (where the titles of each vignette were written) upstage where they could hardly be seen by the audience.

Director Iris Sowlat successfully placed the actors within the space and utilized objects on stage with dual-functionality, though the space and setup itself worked against her.

I desperately wish that the story had just been told instead of convoluted by theatrics. The instinct to turn Woodstein’s story into a production ended up taking away from what was being said; the most honest, powerful moment of the show was when he came on stage and simply talked to the audience about how scared he was.

When presenting to a group with limited knowledge, a playwright needs to take time to educate his audience before they can react to what he is trying to say. We need to keep educating until everyone can understand.

Kudos to Woodstein for starting the conversation.

By admin

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