African-American actor Dexter Brown has the stage all to himself in the one-man show Memoirs of a Manic Depressive. He commands it well, delivering a riveting portrayal of a complex world. The play, written by Gary Mizel and directed by Lorca Peress, is a detailed telling of the true-life ups and downs that occur in the life of a manic-depressive, of which Mizel is one.
Brown goes directly into character from the time he takes the stage. But this character is not someone who tells a single story. Rather, he is a man with many tales to tell. Brown is able to capture each emotion that his character experiences. In the beginning, the character is insecure about his participation in group therapy and verbally attacks other members of the group to make himself feel better. From there, Brown takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride. There is much humor, for the character often laughs at himself as he makes light of his condition. But there are moments when the audience almost holds its breath or gasps as Brown’s character talks of being Dr. Jack Kevorkian (famed proponent of doctor-assisted suicide) to his mother, who is also a manic-depressive.
Whatever is happening in this production—whether the character is reliving the manic part of this condition or the depressive phase—Brown places the audience right there, making it see and feel each experience in all its intensity. It’s like a manic-depressive dropping by to visit you when you are entertaining some friends. You all sit there riveted, maybe even a little wary, as you listen to him relate what he considers reality.
It’s enough of a stretch for an actor to create a memorable portrayal of an everyday character. Imagine how gifted the actor must be to portray a character who, at times, seems not only to be paranoid and unstable but who, at other times, will admit that he has these conditions. How do you prepare to perform as a person who is relaying a lot of different, wild experiences, then perform in a manner that is completely believable, convincing the audience that what it is experiencing is part of this person’s reality? This play is done without an intermission for 90 minutes, and Brown manages almost effortlessly to maintain the passion and quality of his performance.
Actors often want roles that will show versatility. Brown definitely has that opportunity with this script, and he makes the most of it. When the show is over, you feel that you have come to know the horrors and the little happiness the character experiences. More important, you leave with an education in the complexities of manic-depression. You are enlightened and feel fortunate that you do not suffer from this illness, yet you feel compassion toward those who do. Through the wit of the character and his own performance, Brown manages to put the audience at ease with a subject that could make many people uncomfortable. And while the character distinguishes between normal people and those like him, he shows that, in the end, we are all basically the same and that above everything else, we need to love one another.
Memoirs of a Manic Depressive, which is being produced by Mizel’s company, 7200 to 30 Productions, at the Gene Frankel Theatre at 24 Bond Street in New York City, played at the end of June. New performances will begin at the beginning of July.