nytheatre.com review by Daniel Asher
Madeline, the lead character in Spiritual Dyspepsia, has a
problem. She can’t figure out why, for her 30th birthday, her friends
have paid for her to spend a weekend at a Massachusetts retreat designed
to spiritually awaken its guests through yoga, meditation, silence, and
self-reflection. Why didn’t they send her to the beach where she could
have tropical drinks, mingle late into the night and, hopefully, end up
having a meaningless fling?
August 15, 2002
Madeline should be wondering how she has any friends at all, for playwright Taz Pirmohamed has written her as a selfish, yuppie, go-getter with nothing else on her mind except herself. While at the retreat, guests are expected to respect the rules. These include an oath of silence (although they may speak to the teacher), and showing up to all events. These are two things that the self centered, narcissistic Madeline can not, will not do.
This leads to one of Spiritual Dyspepsia’s major flaws: After expressing many times, and in many different ways, that she doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t need any spiritual guidance, why does Madeline stay? Why doesn’t she take her bag and go? More importantly, there was nothing that the actress playing Madeline (Kirsten Potter) could find in the role to make me believe that this woman would stay.
This is not entirely her fault. Potter is saddled with pedantic dialogue (e.g., "This makes as much sense as low fat Twinkies"). The relationship between Madeline and the Teacher resembles a turbulent mother/daughter relationship, replete with screaming matches, turned shoulders, and melodramatic "Why won’t you understand me" type quibbles. It seems unrealistic that such an experienced, spiritually enlightened teacher would allow someone to make her so angry.
Eventually, the most unlikely of people, the Custodian of the joint (quietly and sweetly played by Lawrence Merritt), helps Madeline find the importance and value of silence. I don’t want to reveal how, as it is the one special, tender scene in the play.
The saving grace of the show is Bill Warren’s simple and efficient set design. With a few rice paper-like flats, a bench, and a door, he creates the many different rooms, and areas, indoors and out, of the retreat. Aiding this illusion are Jonathon Spencer’s lighting, and Jeremy Wilson’s sound design.