Los Angeles Theater Review: RUBY WAX: OUT OF HER MIND (The Broad Stage)

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by Jason Rohrer on January 24, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

AVOIDABLE MADNESS

There’s a show running right now at a smaller venue of a state-of-the-art West Side arts complex.  It’s a foreign import, a one-woman show that, in a different format as Ruby Wax: Losing It, has spent years touring asylums with its garbled message of exculpatory hope for those suffering mental illness.  Because the show’s author/performer has experienced what (based on her unstructured description) Jason Rohrer’s Stage and Cinema review of RUBY WAX: OUT OF HER MIND at the Broad, Santa Monicasounds like a nervous breakdown triggered by depression: and because she enjoys a measure of celebrity in the UK: and because her personal courage and admirable motives combine to make this show an honorable thing to promote:  her show made it to the Broad.  On opening night it played to a very small house, and so it well might, because for all its good intentions it is not a good show.

I endured an extremely brief institutionalization for emotional breakdown when I was 16; I didn’t like it, and I didn’t like the depression that put me there.  But if this show had invaded my asylum during the scant hours of my residence, it wouldn’t have made me feel better.  It would have made me cry harder because it would have been more evidence that even the compassionate were helpless to assist me.

Billed at 90 minutes and running less than 60, Ruby Wax: Out of Her Mind offers a scattered, trite, lowbrow ramble through the personal and scientific phenomena of psychiatric disability (perhaps the Q&A unattended by this reviewer accounts for the extra 30 minutes).  Largely a showcase for Ms. Wax’s stand-up stylings, the show is hampered equally by weak writing (obvious jokes, lack of structure), self-Jason Rohrer’s Stage and Cinema review of RUBY WAX: OUT OF HER MIND at the Broad, Santa Monicacongratulatory delivery, and absence of apparent direction – no programs were available at opening night, and no director credited on the projected pre-show supertitles over Ms. Wax’s head.  It’s very much on par with British situation comedy writing and acting, which makes sense given Ms. Wax’s pedigree; the idiom in which one has found success is one that sometimes does not translate across ponds.  The show seeks to destigmatize and legitimate psychiatric disorders, and that’s an important and valuable pursuit.  Out of Her Mind may have done much to lift someone’s spirits, somewhere.  It may have educated a person with a big-ticket disposable income and an astonishing lack of social awareness.  So there’s no shame in this poorly-executed show, but it does raise questions.

Jason Rohrer’s Stage and Cinema review of RUBY WAX: OUT OF HER MIND at the Broad, Santa MonicaOne question is whether the expanded cabaret version of this show, which co-starred Judith Owen and played well at the Edinburgh Fringe and The Menier Chocolate Factory in London, is what the Broad ordered when it invited Ms. Wax for a week’s residency; whether it declined to loan her a pianist and a piano, or knew what it was getting, or what.  Another is why they thought any version of this show was sophisticated enough for a $50-a-ticket audience.  But my biggest question is why venues keep allowing mediocre material to take stage merely on the strength of laudable impulses that may have spawned it.

Ruby Wax: Out of Her Mind
The Edye @ The Broad Stage in Santa Monica
scheduled to end on February 3, 2013
for tickets, call 310.434.3200 or visit http://www.TheBroadStage.com

{ 4 comments }

Oliver Sachs January 26, 2013 at 2:16 am

Wow. The first thing I would like to say is that – as a reviewer – you need to be objective. It’s clear from your writing that we are reading the ramblings of someone who is not comfortable with their history of mental instability. And nor should you be, I am not criticising that. But the very things you level at Ms Wax are things that you yourself are guilty of in this article. I include mediocrity, as an example.

The play was, in fact, directed by Thea Sharrock who is one of the foremost theatre directors in the UK. Ms Wax herself is a qualified psychotherapist and studied neuroscience at Oxford (you may have heard of that University?).

I make these points simply because you, as a reviewer, do not.

You are perfectly entitled to dislike a show, but your job as a critic is to inform, not to make petty jibes and second rate jokes about the work you see (a criticism you once again level at this performer).

Being a critic is a vocation. It requires skill, dexterity and humanity. Not cheap pops.

By the way – I saw the show and enjoyed it on the whole. I leap to this persons defence only because the information I supply above is available on google. I did my homework, would that you had done yours.

Jason Rohrer January 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Mr Sachs:

Thank you for taking the time to write. I am so sorry to have disappointed you. I do have a few clarifications for your consideration:

I am comfortable enough with my time as a psychiatric patient that I wrote about it under my own name in a forum available to the general public. For your part you seem to have chosen, when chiding online, a monicker misspelling the name of a famous neurologist; are you suggesting that I suffer from neurological disorders as well as a “history of mental instability?” Are you aware of the difference? Despite your disclaimer, I am not sure what your point was in mentioning my psyche if not to shame me for it; perhaps you would enlighten me. I hope you are too busy to reply.

When readers feel it incumbent upon them to explain to me my duties, I remind them that they are free to direct their own actions to the extent they are competent, but I humbly reserve the right to conduct my own business as I will. I do suggest also, since you clearly have been misinformed, that you reconsider your definition of criticism.

Apparently you believe that it is my responsibility to hunt the world wide web, a notoriously fallible source, for information that by tradition and practice should have been provided to me ahead of time by the production or by its representatives. I beg to differ. The better to inform myself and my readership I did spend some time researching the history of the show, its antecedents, and its reception generally in the UK and in this country. You will find, if you look, that my commentary is not terribly different from that found in other published reviews, particularly in the show’s country of origin. Perhaps you have more letters to write.

If the director could not take it upon herself to have her name printed in the press release, or in the brief projection that substitutes for a program, I cannot assume the responsibility of outing her for what she may or may not have done at the Broad. In fact I believe that you are mistaken when you accuse Ms Sharrock of directing OUT OF HER MIND. Ms Sharrock directed LOSING IT, which as I mention (in the review just inches above your comment) played abroad, not here.

Finally, I must insist that Ms Wax’s educational history, with which she graciously supplied me as I sat in her audience, is utterly irrelevant to the quality of the monologue I saw. My problems with the show (I wish I had made this clear in the review, and I apologize for confusing you) are of a dramaturgical nature. I take it on faith that she was and is an excellent academic.

Thanks again for your generous communication. I hope you have benefited from the exercise.

Jason Rohrer

Oliver Sachs January 26, 2013 at 5:39 pm

In response to your reply.

I would always stand up for the rights of someone that I feel is being bullied in some way. Cheap pops on the internet, in my opinion, constitute bullying. Using your own name in no way excuses it. People write all kinds of things on twitter and Facebook using their own names – and the things they say are often unkind, personal and uninformed.

As a reviewer I still maintain that you have a responsibility to be objective despite your protestations that you will ‘go about your business as you will’. All professional journalists are accountable. To their readership, to the artists, and creatives they write about but also to their employers. Surely you would want to be thought of as someone who is professional, that adheres to professional values?

If you merely want to say exactly what you want to say, in any way you see fit… well then I have to, reluctantly, agree with you. Within reason, the constitution allows us to say whatever we want to. We live in a democracy after all. But my opinion is that professionals should aim higher than this.

I have reread your article a few times now, in the interests of fairness I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t doing you a disservice. I admit that my first response was quite petty and I apologize for that. But I don’t want my pettiness to detract from the point that I am making which – even if you disagree – is a serious one.

I hope that you will at least consider my view when you reread the article. I have a feeling we may have to agree to disagree, but I hope that you at least find the debate thought provoking.

Oliver Sachs (nothing sinister in the moniker. I’m studying neurology)

Jason Rohrer January 26, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Dear Sir:

A piece of criticism is by its nature an editorial. Objectivity, beyond a grasp of context, is hardly warranted in criticism. You are confusing a critique with a “review,” or a summary, or promotional piece. I do not write those. And since you haven’t responded to the basic errors of fact in your missive which I have corrected above, I will take my point as made.

I suggest that you expand your neurological studies (which I trust you find so exhausting as to excuse your behavior here) to encompass logic, rhetoric, and comportment. Cringing behind the badly spelled name of a wiser individual than yourself does make you rather a figure of fun.

A good student would easily recognize the sinister cheapness of anonymous sarcasm, and the difference between my criticism and your cynicism. And since you have not learned it on this page, I fear you may never see the difference between “thought-provoking debate” and “one-sided thrashing.”

Jason Rohrer

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