Don’t you wish you had a witty, attractive alter ego who knew how to do everything and always had great ideas?
Josh Kramer, the young writer and main character in The Mind’s I, is that kind of lucky (and maybe unlucky; we’ll get to that later). Josh is living at home pursuing his writing career — which, to his family, closely resembles sitting on a couch all day doing nothing — when a literary agent calls with a request for material and a deadline. Josh jumps into action, aided by Jake, the embodiment of Josh’s creativity, and sets to work on a fantasy novel that he’s been working on for years. But this time, by God, he’s going to finish it!
These are probably familiar words to all creative writers. What is not so familiar, however, is seeing such a clear depiction of the creative struggle realized on stage. Michael Smallwood, the playwright of The Mind’s I, has done a marvelous job delineating the characters and their various roles in the creative process. Jake, the embodiment of Josh’s creativity and a kind of jacked-up imaginary friend, distracts Josh as much as he helps him see his characters. Matt, Josh’s more practical younger brother, sows insidious seeds of doubt in our writer, even as Josh violently ridicules his “normal” way of life. And the hero and villain of Josh’s story come to life on stage, showcasing their strengths as characters as well as their flaws. The villain is chilling as a nameless Goth whose evil consists not in fighting and killing nor really in black magic, but in calmly insisting that whether you die now fighting or “succeed” on your journey, death is the ultimate endpoint — nothing we do in this life will ever mean anything. Not exactly what a young writer with grand dreams of success wants to hear!
While the play at times seems a little long — it’s hard to write a full-length play about a guy who lives solely on a couch and in his mind — there are some truly insightful exchanges, most notably between Jake and Josh. Both leads, George West Carruth as Josh and Will Haden as Jake, were excellent in their parts and played against each other like pros. Certain scenes stand out for their truthfulness as well: when Josh loses Jake for a time, the loneliness of the stage is striking. Once peopled with characters from his story, Jake, and a mysterious Lady in Red whose purpose is never quite clear, Josh’s living room holds no one but Josh himself and his frantic grasping for an ending to his story that always escapes him. This, sadly, is what writing really looks like.
A writer in agony might not sound like something you’d want to watch for two hours, but in this case, make an exception. There’s just too much great acting to miss this one.