In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the New York premiere of David Rabe’s Good for Otto. Here’s an excerpt.
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I can’t remember when I last saw a play or movie that was anything other than earnest and glib about mental illness in general and therapy in particular. That’s why I was betting hard against the New York premiere of David Rabe’s “Good for Otto,” a three-hour-long drama about a small-town mental-health center and the people who go there hoping for help.
Well, I lost. Or, rather, everybody won: “Good for Otto,” the latest offering of the New Group, which has previously produced Mr. Rabe’s “An Early History of Fire,” “Hurlyburly” and “Sticks and Bones,” is one of the best new plays to come along in the past couple of seasons. What’s more, it’s being performed by the very best ensemble cast in town, 14 actors led by Ed Harris and Amy Madigan who get all there is to be gotten out of Mr. Rabe’s heartfelt script….
The excellence of “Good for Otto” is all the more unexpected in light of its well-thumbed dramaturgy, which resembles that of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” The stage is decorated only by a battered piano and a couple of dozen chairs. Mr. Harris (who doubles as the Stage Manager-like narrator) and Ms. Madigan play Dr. Michaels and Evangeline, a pair of counselors at the Northwood Mental Health Center. Most of the other actors are patients, with a gaggle of ghosts thrown in for good measure. The action consists mainly of their therapy sessions, and their problems are the usual ones….
“Good for Otto,” which bills itself as being “inspired” by “Undoing Depression,” a book by Richard O’Connor, a practicing psychotherapist, is impeccably true to everyday life: I spent a year fielding calls on the suicide hotline of a community mental health center, and I’ve never seen a show that was as realistic in its portrayal of therapy and crisis intervention.
Such accuracy is no guarantee that the results will be watchable, still less enthralling. Yet Mr. Rabe has made them so, weaving together his tales of commonplace psychic woe so tightly and imaginatively that your attention never wanders….
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Read the whole thing here.