The theme of the new show “Diagnosed” at Creative Cauldron is much more than mental health issues which affect Black women, as it’s billed.
From one vignette to another, the women come and go in beautiful flow to a shop where they unleash hurt and deep pain, mental health disorders they’ve carried around for years.
Lydia (Kandace Foreman) is the shopkeeper, the “mother” of the group, the centerpiece who holds the women together and gives them hope and help.
Her customers come to sit for a spell and let it all out. Mostly in monologues.
Superb acting makes these stories come alive with pathos and some humor. Playwright and director Iyona Blake, a Helen Hayes Award winner and Shenandoah University graduate, attended last Friday’s performance and from her front row seat, joined the audience in enthusiastic response to the presentation which, according to program notes, incorporated some of her own background.
Depression, abuse and almost every imaginable mental health crisis are included here, issues which impact health and wellbeing for years.
Who needs this?
You may wonder. But there’s a purpose to this madness. The drama draws on our sympathies to make us more aware of those around us who may be suffering far more than we know or suspect.
The women drink wine to settle nerves, sometimes assisted by background drums of Tracy Francis who slowly plays them at critical moments to calm influences or, at other junctures, faster and louder to convey anxieties.
Creative Cauldron’s fabulous set designer Margie Jervis fills the set with clothes, shoes, purses, and hats in a Southwestern motif, befitting the ladies who have ghosts of the past haunting them, not always in a bad way. A granddaughter recalls the words of wisdom and love of her deceased grandmother (Theresa Cunningham) who silently encircles the room, dressed in white.
Later, Ms. Cunningham becomes a charming homeless woman about to be married, collecting change, identifying street people.
When Simone (Corisa Myers) tells the horrifying description of continual rape by a relative, she cries real tears, unable to reveal to her own mother what’s happening. Her wrenching testimony elicited my own tears.
Sophia Early as Mia is a potential suicide victim, having tried it many times, a woman whose love by a mother is absent. Her mother left the family early on. She heard voices and now Mia hears them, too.
It’s a cold soul, a rare audience member who is able to turn a deaf ear to the despondency and anguish expressed by the women.
The timing of “Diagnosed” during Black History Month could not be coincidence. It’s a powerful drama which surprised me with its unexpected message. We’ve always got hope.
“Diagnosed” is the Creative Cauldron premiere of another “Bold New Works” for Women’s Voices for which the theatre is distinguished. Its chief sponsor is Jon Wiant, joined by Diener and Associates and Tori McKinney.
Other cast members are Sophia Early, Maria Ria Simpkins, Pauline Lamb, and Andrea Gerald.
The production crew included Cidney Forkpah, costumes; Lynn Joslin, lighting; Tiffany Quinn, choreography; Nina Stephens, wigs; and Nicholas J. Goodman, stage manager. Laura Connors Hull is Creative’s founding artistic director.
Tickets start at $20 for students, $35 for general admission and there’s a $5 discount for groups. Many shows have post-show discussions. Diagnosed runs Thursday through Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. through March 5. Live streaming is available for $15 for the 7:30 p.m. show on March 4. A portion of the proceeds from the 7 p.m. February 26 show will benefit the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation.
About 90 minutes without intermission. Everyone is asked to wear a mask. Mature audiences only alert! The theatre includes a list of resources to aid mental health recovery. Refreshments are available and may be taken to seats.