Congo Square’s “Twisted Melodies” Review – Laudable Portrait of Schizophrenia’s Devastating Pain


In less than 10 minutes after the opening curtain you are ready for “Twisted Melodies” to end.  That’s not because either the script or performance are lacking—quite the contrary.  Rather, it’s because playwright and performer Kelvin Roston Jr. has succeeded so poignantly in re-creating the hell that musical genius and paranoid schizophrenic Donny Hathaway lived in that you urgently want to find the off button and slam the door for him to stop his excruciating pain. 



Please don’t read this as a reason not to attend this re-mount of Congo Square’s highly esteemed portrayal of Donny Hathaway’s story.  We learned in the post-show talk that Kelvin Roston Jr., born about the time Donny Hathaway committed suicide, was drawn to this subject matter in part because his mother suffers from bipolar disorder.   It came as no wonder when he shared that after some performances he needs to spend a few minutes sobbing before he faces the audience for questions.  It’s an all out effort—from his playwright’s pen to his dazzling musical and acting performance--- and you will be better for the wear of re-living Hathaway’s torment through Roston Jr.s talents.



The walls close in, his body stiffens in the straight jacket of medications that barely work for him, his loss of wife and children constantly roil him, and ever present “distractions” of taunting voices terrify him and rule him--- welcome to his world of pain. 



“Twisted Melodies” was the winner of Congo Square’s August Wilson New Plays Initiative that they describe as “supporting the work of new plays that are fearless, represent an authentic voice and universal to the human experience through the playwright of color.”   Yes, Hathaway’s delusion was that “they” were going to steal his compositions and work.  Crazy as this seemed, in the real world so many African-American musicians have found their intellectual property so little compensated that this resonance with what really went down makes Hathaway’s imagined voices re-double as painful to hear.


In her pre-performance introduction to the play, TaRon Patton, Congo Square’s Executive Director, underlined how it is well past time to deal with the stigma of mental illness.  She said, “This is about that uncle you never invite to the barbeque or talk about, and this has to end.”


NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) has partnered with Congo Square to help lead the post-show discussions.  You are likely to be so moved by this play that lingering to talk about it with others is well worth your time.  Then again, it may delay you from the Youtube feast you will likely feel compelled towards, drinking in Hathaway’s music.  Here is a compilation clip to get you started—




Now through September 13 and possibly longer—ask if there has been an extension.


Athenaeum Theater

2936 North Southport



For tickets and information contact the Athenaeum Theatre box office at 773-935-6875 or visit the Congo Square website.




Photos courtesy of Congo Square Theatre

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