Thursday, March 03, 2005

4 Minutes to Happy (Cleveland Public Theatre)

Morton exposes personal bout with depression at CPT

As a mental health professional I have often had clients report persistent sadness, anxiety, or feeling “empty.” Others report feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness. Everyone knows what it's like to feel sad, down, or "blue" from time to time, but when these feelings continue for two weeks or more, and are accompanied by certain other physical and mental symptoms, the condition is classified as a Major Depressive Disorder, commonly known as depression.

Depression is a serious medical illness that is reported to affect over 14 million people a year in the United States. It is thought to be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. It can happen on its own or can be triggered by a stressful or traumatic event. The good news is that depression can be successfully treated. The general process is to prescribe an anti-depressant in tandem with short-term psychotherapy.

Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 depressive people seek the professional help they need -- often because they don't know the symptoms, think depression will go away on its own, or are embarrassed to talk about how they're feeling.

So, what does this have to do with ‘4 MINUTES TO HAPPY,” now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre? Sarah Morton, who serves both as the author and the solo performer, has based the story on her life, the life of a person with depression. We watch Morton go through the throes of agoraphobia when she refuses to leave her apartment, goes to a doctor but refuses to take the medicine, breaks up a relationship but is not sure why, applies for the Peace Corps as an attempt to get away from her reality, and, in a final act of desperation contemplates suicide. She is supposedly “saved” by a mood change brought about by hearing Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray.”

There is good and bad news in Morton’s script. She seems to have faced her depression and through this writing come to an understanding of her illness. She also brings attention to the topic of depression. In addition, the program and lobby information alerts the audience to the extent and seriousness of the topic.

On the other hand, viewers may perceive that the curative process for depression is simple...listen to the right music and voila, you’re cured. If anyone who is depressed thinks this is the case, there could be some serious repercussions.

Morton’s performance is excellent. She is totally natural and believable. We see her go through the throughs of the illness as she exposes us to not only her dark moods, but the roles played by the people in her life. She makes us want to reach out and grab her off the window ledge as she contemplates suicide.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Morton’s script, using humor and drama, is a good device for exposing an audience to the subject of depression. Her performance skills effectively develop her life experiences.