Who's crazy and who's not has been a ripe topic for literature since people realized there was such a thing as mental illness (as opposed to demonic possession). Ed Malin's Presumed Retarded, set in1985, begins with a soliloquy by a young lady named Delmarva Johnson who expounds on a new and multiplying breed of aliens who want to get rid of all the trees on earth and turn them into paper products. As the white-suited ones drag her off the stage, she reveals the name of the aliens: "Lawyers!"
The next scene introduces Del's self-obsessed, divorced actor parents, Sir Terence (Ian August) and Dame Lavinia (Denise Ledonne), who reunite for a talk show with smarmy British host Kitty McTollefson (Tiffany M. Card, who also played inmate Adeena Wannamaker). Terence is gay and had married Lavinia for appearances. Their child Del, wrongfully deemed retarded, had been shunted from Jamaica, West Indies, to the Jamaica, Wisconsin, Home for Women Finding Themselves, a desolate place run by both Dr. Gianni Lesboporno, who was Dame Lavinia's lawyer, and the Doctor's assistant, the young and somewhat callow Dr. Madison Haffenauer (Vincent Piazza). Delmarva's fellow inmates are the nearly catatonic Adeena (Card), the prickly hermaphrodite Singleton (Kassie Bracken), and the peppy B (Anita Gandhi).
During New Drug Week the doctors hatch a scheme to make the women more amenable to the experimental stuff that would soon be pumped into their veins. They hire Fats Forward, a jive-talking '50s crooner, as a musical therapist, to take the girls to the mall to scare them. What happens next was not quite what Dr. Lesboporno, played with malevolent glee and an evil giggle by Jorg Tittel, had planned.
Presumed Retarded was well-conceived and raised, in its own cracked way, questions of female madness, its exploitation by the largely male medical establishment, and the horrors of narcissistic parenting. Malin's writing could be inspired, as in the scene where Del solved the monetary crisis in Latin America. Gurfield's direction was snappy, essential in a play that was largely a farce. She was helped greatly by David Comstock's careful lighting design and Maruti Evans's set, which consisted of a desk, a few chairs, and a Magritte-like painting of a window; anything more would have cluttered the stage. Drew Bellware had fun with the sound, which consisted of oldies from the '50s and the screeching of cars that pulled up before the institution. The costumes were also fun, with the doctors in white suits and the female patients walking around in bunny-face slippers. Three wore street clothes, though Delmarva appeared in surgical scrubs - did this mean she was more sane than the doctors who claimed to be treating her?
All of the actors were noteworthy, and Card's Adeena was moving as the woman silenced by a "bimboid aneurysm." Russ Hammonds was charming as Fats, the singer who led the girls back toward normalcy and proved to be their salvation. Eevin Hartsough was wonderful as Delmarva, a woman who was not only sane but calm and forebearing, a bit of a miracle given all the rotten things that had been done to her over the past 20 years (Lesboporno didn't have a copy of Lolita on his desk for nothing). Even her smile, genuine and radiant, projected goodness.
Writing: Book 2 Lyrics 2 Music1
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Copyright 2001 Arlene McKanic