From the Inside, Out
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
August 14, 2008
There are many purposes for theatre: to entertain, to elicit strong emotion, to tell stories about the human condition, to comment on current events. Maggie Keenan-Bolger's piece, From the Inside, Out, aims to serve all of the above purposes and particularly aims to educate the audience about a topic of personal importance to her, self-injury.
The piece is framed by video of Keenan-Bolger being interviewed about the death of her mother when she was a teenager, the time when she began cutting herself in order to—we learn in the play—have an outlet for feelings she could not verbalize. Between these video excerpts, several actors do a fine job playing different friends and family members of Maggie and giving monologues from the perspectives of people who struggle with self-injury. Keenan-Bolger did a lot of research for her project, and I give her credit for including the experiences of others in her piece because it gives the work more nuance than it would have had if she had only included her own point-of-view. Through witnessing the experiences of the self-injurers, I felt I gained some insight into the prejudice they face from those who should try to help them and the addictive nature of the disorder. The piece elicits empathy about the topic, and it gives the audience information.
As a play, however—and perhaps this is my own prejudice against this kind of autobiographical, informative theatre—I do not feel the piece works very well. The monologues throughout are largely confessional, but not particularly dramatized. Also, it's not clear when the actors are playing new characters and when they are building upon characters previously on stage. In the scene which the work centers around—a lunch with her father during which she tells him about her decision to write a play about self-injury—the stakes don't seem high enough for it to be the center of the play. I'm sure that in real life, the stakes were really high, and I do not mean to minimize the importance of the scene or the subject matter to Keenan-Boger; it simply doesn't hold together on stage as a work of art. There are several scenes between Keenan-Boger and other characters, but I wasn't always sure what they really told me about the big picture. Particularly, when she has a scene between herself and her girlfriend, there are two actors standing behind them telling what she and her girlfriend are really thinking. It took me a few minutes to realize who the other actors were, and even then I didn't feel the scene added much to my understanding of Keenan-Boger's story.
Still, her cast is pretty strong. I particularly enjoyed the comic relief Marinda Anderson offers in her imitation of a T-Rex and thought the scene did dramatize how close friends can find it awkward when you tell them something very personal.
Over all, I respect Keenan-Boger's courage to put this very personal topic out into the open, to start a dialogue about it, to give information, and to (hopefully) encourage empathy and understanding towards people who suffer from the harmful disorder of injuring themselves.