With a book and music written and composed by Charlie Madison ’15, “Grace” debuted in the Senior Thesis Festival on Wednesday, April 22.
The Festival allows seniors to showcase their theatrical talents, often through original pieces, in the Laurie Theater in Spingold.
There was a big crowd for the first day, and the audience seemed very engaged throughout Grace’s journey through her mental illness, as she suffers from schizophrenia from the age of 15 years old and progresses through high school.
In the first scene, we see Grace in the scene by herself, singing that she hears voices everywhere. Not too long after, we see the rest of the characters dance around her as her voices start to get louder and louder and progress into her episodes of panic. The character who played Grace did an incredible job of acting out her sheer anxiety, but because of this passion, it was hard to get the piano to follow along with the voice, because sometimes the voice turned into a scream rather than a continuation of a song.
The first song, like many of the other songs, was cliche and cheesy, but they were entertaining nonetheless. In another, the class starts to break out in a dance about prom and Grace is sitting by herself, sketching in her book, hiding herself behind it, before her friend Joy starts talking to her and one of the boys asks her to prom.
The next time Grace goes to the doctor’s office, they offer her a new drug that could have bad side effects but she remembers what her guidance counselor tells her: to be a “yes” person. After a couple of moments of hesitation, she agrees to take the pills, but is scared because the doctors don’t tell her anything else about the drug when she asks what the potential risks are. However, the drug helps her to think clearly and get rid of the voices, but only until she mixes alcohol with the pills and the relapses into her schizophrenic state again.
This musical was interesting in that it seemed to accurately depict the struggle of living with mental illness and provided more of a background for the audience to understand the pressures of high school coupled with mental disorder.
Grace was portrayed as a stereotypical introvert, but the depth in her character, which we see progress throughout the play, helps us to understand why she acts the way she does, withdrawing from social situations in order to save herself and the others around her. Therefore, we can see how her personality changes as a result of her illness and the way her friends react. This is a mere demonstration of how people react to mental illnesses in an ableist society where people are too scared to confront “crazy” or to understand problems that are different from their own, too consumed with their own lives to care or be empathetic towards others.
“Grace” helps us to give us perspective and view the world in relation to others. We can see that people hide their mental illnesses and that that everyone deals with their own problems. For instance, Joy’s friend confesses to Grace that he has bipolar disorder, when the guidance counselor spends too much time devoting herself to Grace. Therefore, even though the songs in the scenes were about overused themes prominent in high school, they got their point across and reflected the immaturity of the high school students.
“Grace’s” next and final performance is Friday, April 24 at 5:30 p.m, and performances of the other senior theses follow on Saturday and Sunday.