Review by Michael D’Antoni


As I sat back to enjoy this afternoons performances I recalled to mind that over the past few years I’ve noticed that the media profile of mental health and it’s related awareness has been raised significantly, partly due to the campaigning from mental health charities and in part due to high-profile people and celebrities speaking publicly and candidly about their own mental health problems.  All of this welcome exposure removes the stigma around mental health and encourages people who are suffering in silence to seek the necessary help.

I further noticed that the awareness movement is not without its pitfalls. As I was doing research for this very review it was brought to my attention that sometimes the movement has been co-opted by people who wish to advance their own agenda by grabbing media time using this very serious topic as their personal platform.

Likewise, the elevated awareness movement has also, at times, been hijacked by politicians and bureaucrats, who publicly declare their commitment to raising awareness, drawing obvious plaudits for their sensitivity and bravery, while simultaneously under funding or shelving quality proposals that would only benefit the mental health services community.

Well, today’s fundraiser was none of that! Just the opposite. With all the hyperbolic noise on the sidelines this event without question, circumvented the empty chatter and got right to the heart of the movement using pure live theater as its vehicle! The audience was treated to, through a series of minimalist short plays, all of which raised true awareness of the issue. All the presentations possessed nothing less than pure, unadulterated, genuine, unpretentious focus on the agonies and anguish of mental illness, while also celebrating the triumphs and accomplishments over those living with, or those living with someone who suffers from mental health issues.

The special fundraising event known as “TALKING IT OUT”  is a collection of dramatic readings of short plays in support of mental health awareness as presented by award winning playwright and producer ANTHONY J. PICCIONE featuring artistic works by CLAUDIA I. BASS “Alice, Pursued by a Bear”; EDWARD PRECHT “Bipolar (A Workplace Comedy); KEITH ECKERT “No One Returns”; DWAYNE YANCEY “Veronica’s Doll”; ED VELA “Honor”; ENILY HAGEMAN “The Orchid”; MICHAEL TOOHER “Hit Men”; DANIELLE VINITSKI MOONEY “Puddles and Ash”

“Alice, Pursued by a Bear” A girl named Alice who has worked at keeping her an anxiety at bay. But something deeper lurks. The more she tries to squelch it, the stronger the “Bear” gets.  Alice is finally forced to face the bear head on.
“Alice, Pursued by a Bear” was cute, warm and charming. A welcome introduction to this afternoons readings.

“Bipolar (A Workplace Comedy)” Two employees of a company that they enjoy working for are called into a conference room and  receive news that will shake the very foundation of their employer as well as, their tenuous relationship.
Starring, HOLLY PAYNE-STRANGE, GEMIA FOO, EMMA ROMEO, ANDRES GALLARDO BUSTILLO. “Bipolar” was linear and compelling as the playwrights wise choice to give the characters generic monikers allowing their individual dialog to stand out and make an impact. GEMIA FOO’s overt anxiety gave the character just what it needed.

“No One Returns” A soldier returns from war. Suffers severly from PTSD that overcomes his very being.
Starring, NATHAN CUSSON, GEMIA FOO, EMMA ROMEO, ANDRES GALLARDO BUSTILLO.  “No One Returns” dealt with death from the very first line and that’s what made this piece a success. NATHAN CUSSON delivered nice voice inflections during his monologue as EMMA ROMEO’s read was most commanding.

“Veronica’s Dolls” A teenagers dolls come to life in a desperate effort to save her life after she attempts suicide.
Starring, LOUISE HELLER, EMMA ROMEO, NICK CAPRIOTTI, GEMIA FOO, TRAVIS MARTIN. “Veronica’s Dolls” was most innovative and creative what with its conveyance of human feelings  vis-a-vis inanimate objects. This piece happily was reminiscent of the popular Twilight  Zone episode: “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”. EMMA ROMEO gave a nice characterization while NICK CAPRIOTTI was well in command of his lines and performance.

“Honor” During a therapy session a young patient is prompted by his psychologist in an effort to discover why he attempt suicide in the wake of his younger brothers accidental boating death.
Starring, ANDRES GALLARDO BUSTILLO, NICK CAPRIOTTI. “Honor” was touching, heart warming and embracing. Both NICK CAPRIOTTI and ANDREA GALLARDO BUSTILLO did rather nice work here conveying the intensity of the piece.

“The Orchid” When Ryan tried to commit suicide, his friend Jake visits him in the hospital. The Orchid deals with strength, masculinity and enduring friendship as well as the fact, that it’s OK to be fragile in the heat of what is ordinarily a “men must remain strong” world.  Starring, NATHAN CUSSON, NICK CAPRIOTTI. “The Orchid” used awkward yet simple chatter conversation throughout and it works quite well, as the characters try to find common ground in their close friendship. Both NICK CAPRIOTTI & NATHAN  CUSSON were in control of the characters and the piece as a whole.

“Hit Men”  Family members are reminiscent about their dad, a victim of suicide. Starring, LOUISE HELLER, NATHAN CUSSON, EMMA ROMEO. “Hit Men” gave us a nice platform and a vast juxtaposition  whereby members of the same family weighed in on their relationships with their deceased man who was their husband and father.

“Puddles & Ash”  One character is in mourning over a death, while one continues to insist that she still exists. This short play deals with loss, regret, love as well as missed loves.
Starring, HOLLY PAYNE-STRANGE, ANDREA GALLARDO BUSTILLO. “Puddles & Ash” dealt with denial as well as, the dealing with the stages of a lost loved. Eternal and difficult nonetheless an interesting dichotomy. At some point we all must deal with the reality of death and the actors served it up well.

The spotlight shone bright on all these pieces. Collectively the works should be praised for bringing real sensitive attention to the very serious subject of mental illness.

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