Written and Performed by Laurie O’Brien
Directed by Tony Abatemarco
Produced by Gary Grossman
Presented by The Katselas Theatre Company
You’ve got to be pretty brave to run a theatre workshop in a mental health facility. To ask those who already might have a tenuous hold on reality to really go for it and give in to their imaginations is a risky proposition to be sure. But that’s exactly what Laurie O’Brien did in actual real life, and then she wrote about it, and now she’s starring in a one-woman show about the experience. That’s pretty brave, too. I Am Chrissie is currently enjoying its World Premiere at the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz.
It’s a delightful twist that O’Brien treats us to, first as a creator and writer and then as an actor. She had a moving and enriching life experience, wrote about it, and is now performing the work for audiences, taking us on a guided journey into a troubled mind.
She sees her student/patients as equals and without judgment. They’re not crazy—they’re ill—and deserving of as much respect and wonder and equality as any of your own closest friends. The title character of Chrissie represents all of the patients O’Brien has come in contact with in addition to being a particular favorite. O’Brien had come into contact with Chrissie all over Denver, CO—while Chrissie was homeless on the streets, showing up in an emergency room, attending a workshop in an activity center, ultimately committed in the state hospital.
While living in Colorado (not exactly the entertainment capital of the world for an actor), O’Brien works with the mental health facilities and the patients therein. When she ultimately makes a move away, she promises to tell their story one day to repay her debt of gratitude and love. That day has come.
O’Brien is not just captivated by Chrissie, she’s thoroughly inhabited by her. You can watch her seamlessly transform into Chrissie during the course of the performance, and part of you also notices that the theatre workshop instructor blurs the lines back and forth between student and teacher. It’s an amazing metamorphosis that takes place again and again as I Am Chrissie tells its sad story. It’s astounding to see O’Brien do her work.
Clearly, the voice, movements and mannerisms of someone like Chrissie are rich materials for a writer and actor. She’s loud, ungainly, gregarious and bigger than life. O’Brien’s use of Chrissie and her story, though, is always revealing and exploratory; never greedy or self-serving. It’s this very compassion that lets us, the audience, get close to Chrissie and her plight, as well. O’Brien hits the mark of repaying her debt to her students by allowing us to see them as she did.
It’s not just Chrissie’s story that’s on view here but the character of O’Brien and the interaction between these two women. As the healthy outsider, O’Brien lays bare the struggles every person has at least one point in her life: why am I here? What should I do? Where should I go?
Even one of these women’s stories would be ample material for study and here we have them both, brilliantly played.
It would be crazy to miss this play.
Make your ticket reservations by calling 702-582-8587 or online at ktctickets.com
The Skylight/Skylab Theatre
1816 ½ No. Vermont
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Easy street and nearby lot parking.
Now through July 30, 2012
Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m.
Running time is about 90 minutes with no intermission