Coming in at just under an hour, 5th Wall Theater’s collaborative production, Crazy Bitch, doesn’t stop to catch its breath, barreling forward through time and space, seamlessly weaving together stories of the past and stories of the now.
The organically grown play — the cast of seven, plus director Blair Cadden and writer April Bandy-Taylor, devised the script in a matter of two months — centers on a young woman, Jane, who is involuntarily committed to a modern day mental institution. She is visited throughout by six other women all ostensibly, based on their costumes and language, from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their stories are all eerily similar — they had the nerves, the melancholia, they spoke out in an unpopular fashion. They were taken away, given pills, and told to be quiet.
The play attempts to cover a lot of ground in a very short amount of time: mental illness, the mislabeling of mental illness, PTSD, rape, the constraints of the feminine, the boundlessness of the feminine, the fallacies of talk therapy, the benefits of talk therapy, living with an umkempt and anxious mind, overcoming anxiety and being stronger for it.
If it sounds like an ambitious undertaking, well, it is. A 55-minute foray into just one of those topics would have been an impressive endeavor. And while theater is a medium that demands slow and thoughtful meditation, the entire point of the show — giving voices to the voiceless — is that time is of the essence. So I swallowed my desire for a deep dive into the repressed female mind and took in, instead, the all-encompassing production before me.
We meet Jane (Cat Morrison) immediately, as the lights begin to soften around her thin frame. There’s a voiceover, the kind of measured automation that you hear behind clinical, white walls: no sharp objects, nothing that can be used as a weapon. Leave your belongings with a relative or leave it here, but we are not responsible for the contents of the box.
Jane is never given a surname — she is a symbol, a representative, not meant to portray a fully developed character. We get glimpses of her despair as she, wearing only a thread bare white tanktop, black sweatpants, and bandages on both wrists, sits huddled on a chair in the middle of the stage, “I’m not crazy,” she assures her spectral sisters. “I am not.”
There are moments in the play that made me clench my jaw and grab, protectively, at my limbs. You’ll feel it, too, if you’ve ever felt that the world is far too dangerous a place to exist for one more second. The world can be other people — for Jane, we come to find out, her fear is founded in one singular travesty — or it can simply be the space right outside of your heart. I am not crazy. I am not.
5th Wall smartly preps audiences for the heavy emotions that may come up: Every theatergoer was handed a program as they walked into the intimate Threshold space delineating resources — People Against Rape, National Suicide Prevention Hotline — for those affected by the show’s sensitive topics. There’s even a note at the bottom that invites all attendees to participate post-show with a tally mark on the asylum “walls” as a way of saying “Me, Too.”
Whether it’s you, your sister, your friend, your mother, your daughter, who has felt even a modicum of inexplicable grief, only to be met with vitriol, go see Crazy Bitch. If you or a loved one has been betrayed, mistreated, trodden upon, only to be ignored and locked away — go see Crazy Bitch. The acting is superb — especially the young, wild-eyed and brave Morrison — and the narrative, while ambitious, touches on all the timely notes. Because if not now, when?
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