Because of a biology class I am taking this summer, I am unable to attend the Fringe-For-All previews. But I have been in contact with some of the companies performing at the Fringe and would like to use my blog to give some background on some of interesting shows that caught my attention. If you have a show in the Fringe and would like to share some information with me about your show, please e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Code 21 originally caught my attention when I saw an audition notice for the show. But I had to rule out auditioning because my biology class would not work with the rehearsal schedule. But it gave me an opportunity to learn about this show by Russell Schneider. This Fringe show is being performed at the Gremlin Theatre. Russell Schneider was in the Fringe last year, with Upstage! Musical Theater Company’s production of The REAL Story of Little Red Riding Hood, where he played the Big (Bad?) Wolf. He is back this year with a show he wrote concerning the mental health system. A full version of Code 21, with more characters and a slightly different story, was produced early last November at Macalester College, as a student production. A video of this production is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5ce2AHvinM. This Fringe version is altered from the original and has new cast members.
Schneider, who wrote the play and is also the director/producer and plays a role in it, told me that he had been trying to write this play for about four years, since he was first hospitalized for depression. About a year ago, he finally received the “proper nudge that settled all of my super-saturated thoughts into a crystallized form” and he was finally able to write it. The play is an expression of the experiences he has had with the mental health system. He is dissatisfied with the way the psych ward was run. He sees it as essentially a sick system that needs healing. The play does not necessarily show what changes should be made, but it demands that the system recognize its current limits and expresses frustration with how people in general regard distress and “mental illness.” As Schneider noted, “I hope that, since we all have distress and all want it recognized as valid, this play will be able to speak to everyone about the need for that recognition. I also hope that it will speak to teens who have been hospitalized before, and show them they are not alone in their confusion and upset.”
Code 21 is set in a fictional psych ward. The play begins with their first meeting between Rebecca and Sara, two teens who are on the ward for very different reasons to one another. They establish an alliance, but they are tenuous allies—Sara in particular is not sure if she can trust Rebecca. Hospital staff begin to intrude with the pair and this eventually sets Rebecca and Sara against each other. Gradually the two teens find that they are each other’s only source of support and comfort in this place, and that they must rely on each other. As they attempt to do so, they try to understand what, if anything can truly make a wounded person feel better.
When I asked Schneider if the play was suitable for teens, he noted that it is fairly “adult-oriented,” so he recommended that teens be 16 or older, after all the two leads play 16-year-old characters, but those younger were welcomed if they had parental approval and thought it would be great if parents would come with their younger teens. Although there are “adult themes,” it is really “nothing that a teenager might not have to deal with in the real world anyway.” Schneider hopes the show will help audiences gain critical insight into the nature of human distress, and an expose-style look into the workings of the modern mental hospital.
When I asked Schneider what makes his show stand out from other Fringe shows, he noted: “Our intensity, integrity, and ingenuity, plus the active social conscience. We are addressing an occult topic: the sacred rites of the inner order of Psychiatry, that which is conducted in the hallowed halls of the Mental Hospital.”
I noticed that both last year and this year there are several Fringe shows addressing the mental health system, including last year’s production of Full Frontal: A Tale of Love & Lobotomies which addressed how the system operated in the 1950s. I am looking forward to viewing Schneider’s take on the system.