Gift Theatre’s “Good for Otto” Review – Mental Healthcare Collage

John Gawlik in The Gift Theatre's world premiere of Good For Otto. Photo credit, Claire Demos

 

As you walk from Gift Theatre’s nearly imaginary lobby space into the performance room you are immediately struck by the off-the-beaten path set design (Greg Pinsoneault).  In the room’s corners there are suggestions of the many living rooms in the town.  A tree climbs up a wall to signify the country setting.

 

Paul D'Addario and Alexandra Main in The Gift Theatre's world premiere of Good For Otto. Photo credit, Claire Demos

 

The side doors then open and some of the troubled denizens of this bucolic town who seek services at the local mental health center file into the room’s many corners and perches.  The script is largely these personas taking their turns in the string of vignettes about depression, psychosis, suicide and similar that are the subject matter of “Good for Otto”. 

 

 

Dr. Robert Michaels, played by John Gawlik, introduces the patients’ stories by remarking at how peaceful and beautiful the town’s surrounds are and how many who visit his mental health center skulk through the doors with shame to be there. 

 

John Gawlik, Caroline Heffernan and Brittany Burch in The Gift Theatre's world premiere of Good For Otto. Photo credit, Claire Demos

 

Dr. Michaels himself is plagued by memories of his mother’s suicide, and the spirit of his mother, played by Brittany Burch, is his bourbon-inspired tormentor, conscience and his most personal connection to understanding the pain of his clientele.

 

Caroline Heffernan and John Gawlik in The Gift Theatre's world premiere of Good For Otto. Photo credit, Claire Demos

 

Based on a book, “Undoing Depression” by psychotherapist Richard O’Connor, this script by David Rabe gives the many talented actors of Gift Theatre ensemble and others brought in for this production a chance to shine in short cameos. 

 

- John Connolly and Lynda Newton in The Gift Theatre's world premiere of Good For Otto. Photo credit, Claire Demos

 

The namesake Otto is actually a hamster pet that is central to the well-being of a special needs man with anger control issues portrayed memorably by John Kelly Connolly

 

Jay Worthington in The Gift Theatre's world premiere of Good For Otto. Photo credit, Claire Demos

 

Jay Worthington is compelling as a fragile young gay man who fragments in a psychotic break. 

 

Brittany Burch, Caroline Heffernan, John Gawlik and Lynda Newton in The Gift Theatre's world premiere of Good For Otto. Photo credit, Claire Demos

 

 

Darci Nalepa is the exhausted would-be adoptive mom of a young girl played by Caroline Heffernan, whom we watch getting doubly victimized by her birth mother and the system.  And more—all actors giving fine performances that at times seem to reflects talents that outsize and outshine the script.

 

Brittany Burch and Caroline Heffernan in The Gift Theatre's world premiere of Good For Otto. Photo credit, Claire Demos

 

The sorry state of mental health resources in the US is the subject of this play. Gift Theatre gives this subject well-deserved attention in “Good for Otto”.

 

Brittany Burch in The Gift Theatre's world premiere of Good For Otto. Photo credit, Claire Demos

 

Now through November 22, 2015 at The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. 

 

For tickets and information visit the Gift Theatre website or call 773-283-7071.

 

 

 

 

 

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