Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Liza Giangrande in “The Manic Monologues.” (Photo: Finn Bamber)

More than 1 in 5 American adults live with a mental illness, and yet mental health remains a taboo topic – “The stigma is more dangerous than the illness,” as one of the actors says during “The Manic Monologues,” a show by Moonbox Productions performed in the new Arrow Street Arts Studio space in Harvard Square.

The show aims to push against stereotypes and inspire dialogue through a series of short scenes about conditions from depression to OCD to schizophrenia.

Six cast members deliver roughly 20 monologues, all true stories from people around the world. One told of their experience with tongue thrusting (exactly what it sounds like), a side effect of schizophrenia medication. Another explained how having a boyfriend who had bipolar disorder inspired her to become a psychiatrist. A third reckoned with believing in a diagnosis at odds with familial beliefs. Right in the middle was a story by Zachary Burton, who wrote the show with Eliza Hofmeister after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2017 while getting his doctorate at Stanford.

The stories were compelling, if not always the most well-written. Many, if not most, were delivered with a humor that made them more palatable but at times made them feel less authentic.

Cidália Santos, left, and Kara Crumrine in “The Manic Monologues.” (Photo: Finn Bamber)

The concept was mostly well-executed. Sometimes the delivery just didn’t, well, deliver: I didn’t always feel as convinced as I wanted to. Many of the stories were moving, some were intense, a couple were haunting. The two that stuck with me most were about a mother’s suicide and a father’s disclosure of his mental illness to his son. (Liza Giangrande, who delivered the suicide monologue, also did a brilliant job with the psychiatrist monologue and was easily the standout performer; Cidália Santos and Katie Kendrick had truly great moments.)

Minimal staging and plain costumes made it easy to sink all your attention into absorbing the stories. It also put more importance on sound and light design, which were well done. The sound effects peppering the monologues were especially impressive – they fit into the story and were timed perfectly without crossing the line into excess; this audio enhanced the stories and contributed significantly to the viewing experience.

After the show, mental health production consultant Sara Burd led the audience in a brief conversation so members could share the monologues that resonated with them. A play doesn’t often feel like it needs to end with a community conversation, but in this case having that kind of vulnerable discussion after an emotional viewing experience felt like closure. And watching strangers bound only by what we had just watched engage earnestly with each other on these topics made my heart feel warm. I left feeling encouraged and inspired, like this show really is breaking down barriers and we really are moving toward true mental health recognition and respect.

  • “The Manic Monologues,” by Zachary Burton and Eliza Hofmeister and directed by Brad Reinking. Presented by Moonbox Productions at Arrow Street Arts, 2 Arrow St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, through Sunday.