NEW YORK -- Physician, heal thyself. \nIt would help a lot if the two doctors in "Blue/Orange,'' Joe Penhall's frenetic, agitated drama about mental illness and its relationship to racism, did just that: took two tranquilizers and calmed down. \nThey are the excitable ones in Penhall's aggressively talky three-character play, which the Atlantic Theater Company opened Sunday off-Broadway. "Blue/Orange,'' a hit two years ago at England's Royal National Theater, is set in a London psychiatric hospital where a young schizophrenic black man could be released after treatment. "Could be'' are the operative words, since the man's freedom depends on what two white, middle-class doctors -- a young, inexperienced physician and his older supervisor -- agree to do. \nTheir debate pretty much takes up the whole play, filling designer Robert Brill's chic, antiseptic consultation room, a blindingly white square floor with gray walls and a glass table containing a bowl of oranges. \nThe inmate man, played with likable looniness by Harold Perrineau Jr., believes the oranges are blue. And that's the least of his problems. He also says Ugandan dictator Idi Amin is his father or maybe Dad is Muhammad Ali. There doesn't seem to be any doubt about his mental problems, but the older doctor, a creepy, compelling Zeljko Ivanek, is determined to release him. \nThe accomplished Ivanek oozes a smarmy sympathy as he questions the patient and challenges his junior colleague, whose nervousness and overwhelming desire to do the right thing is perfectly captured by the boyish Glenn Fitzgerald. \nThe older man attempts to blame society for the inmate's illness and wants him, armed, of course, with the appropriate medication, back on the street. Fitzgerald's character thinks otherwise. \nTheir discussions, staged by director Neil Pepe as if they were verbal fencing matches, gradually grow in intensity, finally erupting in a big second-act outburst by the younger doctor. It's a diatribe that his mentor and the patient then turn against him. \nPenhall takes a soapbox approach to these fiery dramatics, and it's easy to see which side he favors. Unfortunately, despite all the speechifying, he neglects the story, settling for a series of arguments that stunt the plot and any character development. \nNot much is revealed about these three men, except the opinions they mouth. They are statements rather than people, giving "Blue/Orange'' the feel of a medical paper that has been theatrically, if impersonally, delivered.
Get stories like this in your inboxSubscribe