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The Manbites Dog Theater production of The Man Who (L’homme qui), buoyed by highly favorable word of mouth, packed the downtown Durham, NC-based theater Saturday night. This intriguing 1993 “theatrical research” by British avant-garde director/playwright Peter Brook and French dramatist Marie-Hélène Estienne, based on the neurological case studies in Dr. Oliver Sacks’ best-selling book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales (1985), is a difficult drama that once again allows Manbites Dog to push the edges of the creative envelope.
The Man Who presents a formidable test for director Jay O’Berski and actors Gigi DeLizza, Dana Marks, Mark Jeffrey Miller, and Adam Sampieri. It is a pleasure to report that all parties pass with flying colors.
O’Berski once again demonstrates his imagination and resourcefulness by giving this series of vivid doctor-patient encounters, performed without intermission, pizzazz. O’Berski’s staging is bold and brisk, and he elicits remarkably polished characterizations from each and every cast member as they smoothly segue from doctor to patient and back again in 17 pithy pieces dramatizing the effects of a variety of neurological afflictions.
As a result of damage to the frontal lobes of their brains, Dr. Oliver Sacks’ patients all have mental problems that might be mistaken for retardation or for forms of mental illness. They are victims to aberrations in the cognitive process that adversely affect their perceptions and intellects — indeed, they can mistake their wives for their hats — and they lose important portions of their memories.
Some of them can no longer recognize common objects. Others are subject to violent tics and twitches, involuntary verbal outbursts, or drastic mood swings.
In his deeply moving book, Dr. Oliver Sacks chronicles his patients’ heroic struggle with these severe neurological impairments. In their provocative play, Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne dramatize key battles in this struggle and, in doing so, restore to these patients their humanity.
Local actress Gigi DeLizza makes a most impressive Manbites Dog debut in a variety of roles, and former University Theatre at N.C. State diva Dana Marks once again demonstrates her remarkable versatility in bringing complicated characters fully to life. Stage, screen, and television actor Mark Jeffrey Miller brings poignancy to the title role and contributes a number of other crackerjack characterizations, especially as a man reading Gray’s “Elegy” with supreme confidence and absolutely no idea that he misread certain words in the poem; and former Duke Players mainstay Adam Sampieri, who doubles as the show’s sound designer and composed some original music for this production, also gets a chance to demonstrate the breadth and depth of his dramatic art in portraying a vivid variety of patients and their doctors.
Gigi DeLizza’s poignant portrait of an aging woman who thinks she is a frisky 12-year-old girl — and is rocked by her wrinkled reflection in a mirror — and Dana Marks’ indelible impression of a playful patient with Tourette Syndrome number among the show’s dramatic highlights. (To describe all the show’s outstanding characterizations in detail would take a book, and deprive potential audience members of discovering a host of unforgettable characters for themselves.)
The show’s incidental music — a lively mixture of classical, jazz, and rock-and-roll compositions sagely selected by Adam Sampieri — and Sampieri’s own musical contributions provide just the right atmosphere for this series of patient interviews.
The show’s set and lighting, both designed by John Galt, are also exceptional. A semicircular wall — ostensibly an old, cracked, much-repaired plaster wall — emphasizes the institutional setting of the action. It provides a bland backdrop for the colorful characterizations — so full of dramatic snap, crackle, and pop — that promise to pack Manbites Dog Theater for the length of the run of The Man Who.
This passionate production not only provides a showcase for four of the finest actors in the Triangle, but it also provides a touching tribute to the valiant struggle of the neurologically impaired to triumph over their afflictions. Don’t miss it.
Manbites Dog Theater presents The Man Who Thursday-Saturday, March 10-12, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, March 13, at 3:15 p.m.; and Wednesday-Saturday, March 16-19, at 8:15 p.m. at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $9 Wednesday-Thursday and $14 Friday-Sunday when bought at the door, and $10 Wednesday-Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday when bought in advance. 919/682-3343 or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. Note: There will be a post-show discussion March 13th. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/. Peter Brook: http://members.aol.com/dramaddict/Brook/ [inactive 7/06]. Oliver Sacks: http://www.oliversacks.com/ [inactive 2/06].
Manbites Dog Theater will present The Man Who, avant-garde British director/playwright Peter Brook and French playwright Marie-Hélène Estienne’s “theatrical research” into the mysteries of the mind and the nature of reality, March 2-19 at its theater in downtown Durham, NC. Inspired by case studies of mentally ill patients reported in Oliver Sack’s bestseller The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales (1992), The Man Who debuted in 1993 in Paris as L’homme qui (the play’s French title).
Jay O’Berski will direct the Manbites Dog production of The Man Who. The cast will include Gigi DeLizza, Dana Marks, Mark Jeffrey Miller, and Adam Sampieri.
In reviewing a previous British production of The Man Who for the Fringe Report, John Park wrote, “The Man Who … is 17 short pieces examining madness in a clinical setting.… It’s hard to stretch a definition of theatre to include The Man Who. There’s no story — but that didn’t stop Samuel Beckett. There’s no continuity — again, many precedents…. But more crucially — there’s no drama. It’s simply a succession of people being mad. And utterly wonderful…. Being amused by psychiatric patients is difficult, because there is such intrinsic sadness in what (compared to our concept of ‘normality’) they lack. But laughter can also be a release and lessen the gap between patient and audience by blowing off the steam — no doubt Peter Brook’s intention.”
Park added, “[The Man Who is] difficult to watch too, because of the intrusion. Although the pieces are scripted, the impression is highly naturalistic, as if spying on the consulting room — a necessarily private place. Mostly, the production feels like a set of role-plays for the training of doctors. There’s a hint of tastelessness at putting this technical exposition of the mad up for public display. It resonates too easily with days out at Bedlam for the entertainment of jaded Victorians.”
Manbites Dog Theater presents The Man Who Wednesday-Saturday, March 2-5, at 8:15 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, March 10-12, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, March 13, at 3:15 p.m.; and Wednesday-Saturday, March 16-19, at 8:15 p.m. at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $9 Wednesday-Thursday and $14 Friday-Sunday when bought at the door, and $10 Wednesday-Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday when bought in advance, except pay-what-you-can preview March 2nd ($5 minimum). 919/682-3343 or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. Note: There will be a post-show discussion March 13th. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/. Peter Brook: http://members.aol.com/dramaddict/Brook/ [inactive 7/06].