In McPherson Madness, playwright Kelly Canavan revisits a moment in recent history and shows how the drama of revolutionary movements can draw out the drama in one’s personal life. When she joined the Occupy movement in November 2011, she did not know it was setting the stage for a play she would later author.
In October 2011, when Occupy Wall Street was taking to the New York City streets, a small group of people started a sister encampment in Washington, DC. Within weeks, it grew to several hundred tents covering the entire park.
Like Occupy DC on which it is based, McPherson Madness is set in a public park near the White House, McPherson Square. Its main character, Dreama, is a mother on a journey in a social movement, struggling to balance the extremes of two lives. She’s a character split into two separate personas. “Info Dreama” (Jen Bevan) exists as the dominant role, pulled in by the gravitational energy of the Occupy DC movement, while Dreama (Tina Ghandchilar) internalizes the conflict with her family life outside the park.
Her obligation to participate in what she sees as a necessary revolution in society is pitted against her duty to take care of her son. As the play unfolds, she must come to terms with this conflict.
She lives almost schizophrenically, vacillating between separate worlds. There’s no peace for her as she skirts between the charged energy of the park and her son’s home life she has temporarily escaped. The audience never meets him, and only learns about him from her cellphone calls.
The ghostlike appearance of her doctor (Jean Miller) coaches her through her issues with sexuality, motherhood, and health, through dialogues with her two personas.
The play was artfully directed by Lynnie Raybuck, a perfect fit for this production, who finds “people more interesting than right or wrong.” The art backdrop, a 10′x20′ acrylic poster depicting a grand scene of McPherson Square, was painted by Ray Voide, who has previously painted dozens of protest posters.
McPherson Madness achieves authenticity since it was written by someone who actually lived and documented her journey within Occupy in a personal way. It pulls the audience into Dreama’s struggle while showing the harsh consequences of a society broken by its troubles and failings–and those who try to fix it.
It speaks to social issues of alcoholism, poverty, homelessness and the extraordinary efforts of people to “fight back” against oppressive social and economic ills. There may be stereotypes, but each is treated with a great amount of respect, each given a central role of dramatic importance. It shows that in the midst of complete chaotic breakdown people can still find humanity in how they treat others. In this production the issues of political correctness remain silent: it is about people.
McPherson Madness is a must-see exploration of a woman evolving through a modern revolution, torn between complex worlds revealing the personal lives of its players, on display for everyone.
McPherson Madness is part of the Capital Fringe Festival, www.capitalfringe.org. It shows Sunday, July 21, 2:30 PM at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Streets NW (corner of P Street NW) Washington, DC and Saturday, July 27th, 6:30 PM.
- Reverend Nuge Dares You to “Occupy This!” (coolrevolution.net)
- “OccuPlay” puts Occupy DC on stage at Fringe Festival (coolrevolution.net)