When Thoughts Attack
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
May 31, 2012
“They say sanity is a numbers game,” Kelly Kinsella announces wryly. If it is, a lot of people are playing it, myself included. We follow writer and performer Kinsella as she recounts a string of bad therapists and worse loved ones, through a dysfunctional childhood to her current ordeal of ordering lunch while being neurotic. Playing a hyper-realized version of herself in this one-woman play, Kinsella has birthed a show impossible not to relate to. When Thoughts Attack! is hilarious, and more importantly, it's honest.
The play opens on the central question of "what to get" at a restaurant, a trivial but sometimes mildly stressful activity for anyone who doesn't know what they're in the mood to eat. For Kinsella, indecision turns the bistro into a minefield. She fluctuates wildly between salmon and chicken, beer and wine, the window open or closed, undoubtedly driving the unseen wait staff insane before finally deciding the only way to escape the situation with a shred of dignity is to rush out of the restaurant. It's a heightened version of an embarrassing situation most people can understand, and Kinsella delivers the nervous flood of words with pitch-perfect comedic timing. Suddenly, in the middle of the scene, she casually breaks the fourth wall to ask if anyone in the audience has some water; she needs to take a Xanax so she can calm down enough to go on with the show.
She continues to engage the audience in this way throughout the play, highlighting that this is more than a performance—it's an excavation of personal neuroses on stage. Kinsella is forty, single, working what she considers a dead-end job, living in a tiny apartment, and pursuing a very cosmopolitan treatment course consisting of therapy, pills, and yoga. And to her infinite credit, her problems never seem trite and her monologue never feels whiny. With high humor and real courage, her story elegantly loops between the past and present as she examines the causes of her self-diagnosed "anxiety disorder with a side of depression." Some of her early experiences are quite dark and her present state, truly fragile, but Kinsella walks the razor's edge of tragicomedy with admirable skill. Another highlight of the show is Kinsella's real knack for voices, bringing everyone from her paranoid grandmother (who made her jog wielding a steak knife for protection) to her hard-boiled Brooklyn therapist to vivid life. When Thoughts Attack! is engrossing and ever-entertaining, and appropriately for an entry in the soloNOVA Arts Festival (New York City's longest running solo performance festival), the true selling point of the show is the utterly relatable Kinsella herself. She's like us, just funnier.