From the first word uttered on stage, it's clear the audience is eavesdropping on a family in pain. Indeed, writer-producer Jen Dalton with her Fringe Festival production Mad seems to want badly to take strangers where they otherwise clearly should never be: inside.
Inside the house, where a family is forced to cope with and quickly understand their son's recent diagnosis of schizophrenia. Inside a marriage, where the once happy couple struggles to stay together in the face of the illness. And inside a mind, tortured and broken, that still manages to show flashes of compassion and love.
Dalton should know. It was, after all, her brother's illness and her family's difficult story on which Mad was based. It's challenging theatre, to be sure — hard to watch and hard to perform. And yet it's necessary. To see and to tell.
As Mad opens, Rob (played with care by Andrew Bernhard) is moving back into his parents' house. His recent strange behavior, including leaving his car running to steal another car and lead police on a three-county chase, has been blamed on mental illness.
The family had a choice: leave him at a hospital or care for him themselves. Deciding, easily, that Rob would be better with them, Mother (Sue Breving) and Father (Scott Fitzgerald) open their house and their arms and hope that prescribed medicine will be the cure.
The problem is, Rob doesn't take to the pills, explaining that they make "the voices go away, and I miss them when they're gone. They’re the only friends I've got."
His behavior, as he bounces between medication and cold reality, becomes erratic and violent, leading the family to wonder whether home is the best place for Rob.
Dalton presents the personal story straightforwardly. This tale needs no devices or embellishment. It's heart-wrenching enough as it is. One exception is the use of actors as the voices in Rob's head, staged by co-directors Ed Cohen and Dan Doerger. The voices taunt, tease and dare Rob, overlapping conversations he's actually having with conversations going on internally. The effect is effectively maddening.
Mad also illustrates how two people can react so differently to the same situation. When Father walks in on Rob, who is playing The Doors far too loud for the late hour, Rob explains that he's going to be a Rock star. Father starts to interject, then sighs, "Never mind." Mother, on the heels of the diagnosis, at first is in denial. Later, she blames herself: "Something must have happened while I was carrying him." It's the only explanation she can muster.
Mad is, in effect, a love letter Dalton wrote not only to her brother but to her parents. It's a touching ode to familial strength and unconditional love. And the result is great theater. Grade: A
— Rodger Pille