The Panic Diaries
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
August 16, 2011
Katie Northlich hides in her apartment, scribbling in her diary. Her panic attacks are making her almost agoraphobic. “What do I do when I feel trapped by who I am?” she asks. And why is it so hard for her to articulate, let alone ask for what she wants? Using existentialism, psychology, and a vast, quixotic vocabulary, Northlich examines her feelings of self-doubt and self worth as she looks for the root of her panic.
In between her self-studies, there are other monologues: People like herself who are searching for acceptance, approval and emotional intimacy. There is the hilarious and raunchy Stacy, and the keenly anxious woman who harasses a store clerk in her over-eager bid for connection. Then there is the disturbing dog walker who tries to set a dog on fire (don’t worry, the dog remains unharmed) to answer his burning question, “how fast does fire spread on the underside of a dog’s belly?”
Like Northlich, these characters have a fierce and very human need for understanding, for relief from their aching feelings of loneliness and disconnection. While most of the characters she creates are interesting and quirky, others are not as clearly defined. At times it is difficult to find the thread in their story that leads back and ties in with Northlich’s quest to conquer her panic. She brings a lovely and individual physicality to each character, working closely with director Joe Ricci to bring an affecting subject matter to life. Dan Illian’s splendid sound design creates an evocative world for her to inhabit, from the cacophonous sound of city traffic to the quiet beating of a heart.
Searching for the key to her own panic attacks, Northlich begins to see that she has a funny and heartfelt laundry list of wants. The question is, can she find a way to speak up for them?
The answer to The Panic Diaries resonates with both Northlich and with the audience, and makes for a play worth checking out in this crowded festival.