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THEATER REVIEW: Mind's I

The Good, the Bad, and the Blocked: We love watching writers in pain in CofC's Mind's I

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Mind's I
Produced by the College of Charleston
Jan. 20-24, 8 p.m.
Jan. 25, 3 p.m.
Chapel Theatre
172 Calhoun St.
(843) 953-5604

When Tom Hanks' coach Jimmy Dugan runs out of patience with his all-female team in A League of Their Own, he bellows, "There's no crying in baseball!" Would that writers, like Dugan's baseball players, were so lucky to have help like that.

Sadly, art is a solitary business and lacks the basic comforts ballplayers take for granted: supportive coaches and teammates, clearly defined goals, plenty of fresh air. Michael Smallwood's The Mind's I at the College of Charleston is not breaking new ground when it highlights these perils: It revels in them.

Josh Kramer (George West Carruth) is a young writer with lots on his mind: an on again/off again girlfriend, Heather (Darielle Deigan); a sibling rivalry with his brother, Matt (Spencer Jones); an impish alter-ego, Jake (William Haden), who emerges from Kramer's imagination with startling effect; and looming over it all is a deadline on the opportunity to impress a literary agent (John Rhodes).

The play is buoyed considerably by its cast, who allow us, on the strength of their enthusiasm and skill, to float over a few overlong scenes. An example: While the dance sequence of the Lady In Red (Dominique Gozdawa) sparkles with fun, it does little to advance the plot or add to characterization. Even so, it's a welcome break from Josh's creative constipation, which largely finds him sitting on his mother's (Charley Boyd) living room couch, agonizing.

Like Sisyphus, he's trapped in his task. He also thinks cocaine will relieve his symptoms, though Jake tries to pry him away from it, urging him to sit quietly in the darkness that is his mind's eye and recognize the true source of his creativity.

Whether Josh can rise to the task is both his "mythic quest," as his brother dismissively characterizes it, as well as fulfillment of a promise Josh made to his dead father to "make his mark on the world." It's just not going to be easy.

The brand-new fantasy novella Josh hopes to finish, and impress the literary agent with, is populated with characters emblematic of his performance anxiety: the human/angel swordsman Glenn Lightwind (Robert Prevatt Jr.) and the nameless Villain (Nick Smithson), who is doom-and-gloom incarnate. Villain delights in assuring Josh that he cannot win and it's all pointless, anyway. Die now or die later, the Villain cackles. If the novella sounds a little contrived, it just makes us worry all the more about Josh's bid for success. Even the blips of heavy-handed dialogue seem to work given that Josh is driving himself nuts inside a creative universe of archetypal beings.

Gratefully, the play doesn't take itself too seriously and watching Josh's imaginary friends come out and play is absurd, raucous fun. Both George West Carruth and William Haden give us plenty to admire and the cast as a whole shines.

The packed theater seemed to agree: Writers in wrenching pain are fun to watch.

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