nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 14, 2009
In a way, writing a review of Remission less than an hour after seeing it represents a tiny bit of madness, albeit of the self-aware variety: this new play, written and directed by Kirk Wood Bromley and performed by Dan Berkey, is a rich, dense, complicated, difficult work of art, and merits (and will receive) much more reflection than I have so far given it. But there are only six performances of Remission in the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival, and 200 other shows (though I am certain that none of them can be anything like this one), and so in the interest of getting the word out to those in search of theatre that stretches, exercises, jolts, and exalts an audience in 90 intense and harrowing minutes of spectacular wordplay and virtuosic acting, I write this review now, nonetheless.
I will start with the end: at the curtain call, Berkey received a prolonged and (certainly in my case) heartfelt ovation; I didn't want to stop applauding, and I think that's a sign of catharsis.
The play, moving and involving and in places so harsh that you want it to stop, depicts Berkey's experiences with schizophrenia and alcoholism. The title of the play gives away the ending, which is that Berkey's schizophrenia is, for now, no more. Bromley says in a program note that although people often think that such a thing is not possible, he now believes that Berkey's own assessment of his condition is true. The play makes me think that also.
The piece feels on the surface deceptively like one of those confessional autobiographical performance-art-y solo shows. But few if any of those contain words like that which Bromley has brought to Remission: if you know his work, then you know he has long been enmeshed in a love affair with the innate beauty of the English langauge and that it's mutual, and that his plays are filled with miraculously dextrous puns and wordplay and with unexpected images so right that they make you stop and ponder them (at the risk of missing the next 30 seconds of dialogue). The stagecraft, too, sets Remission apart from the tell-all show it superficially resembles—it is canny and smart, backed by remarkable projections that are uncredited in the program but masterful in practice (many of them are from photos taken by Berkey himself). The design, by Jane Stein (sets and props), Jeff Nash (lighting), Karen Flood (costumes), and John Gideon (music) is superb, and a wolf head mask designed by Stein is a particular standout.
As for Berkey's work here—playing himself, or versions of a self that he somehow is able to de-/reconstruct with his finely tuned actor's instrument—well, it is extraordinary. (This will come as no surprise to those who have seen him in past FringeNYC shows like Horse Country and Stavrogin's Confession.)
What happens to us, in Remission, is that—excruciatingly, ecstatically, illuminatingly—we come as close as I imagine possible to experiencing what a schizophrenic experiences, in all its unfiltered agony, anxiety, fear, and raw emotion. This is not a simple, passive kind of theatre, but rather the kind that really makes you fully aware of your feelings. This is the kind of theatre I look for but do not often find.