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Darkness a dramatic metaphor for psychosis

By Mike Youds
September 21, 2016 5:15 P.M.
Dr. Merrick in Chimera Theatre's The Disordered Mind.

In The Disordered Mind, suffering, compassion and science collide within the eerily lit tunnels beneath Tranquille.

The latest instalment of “tunnel tour” drama, a partnership between Chimera Theatre and Tranquille Farm Fresh, runs for the next six weeks on the grounds of the former institution.

For the third year running, local playwright Andrew Cooper of Chimera has researched and written an original play based on historical circumstances. 

When he arrived in Kamloops to study at TRU, Cooper took a job with Tranquille Farm Fresh, guiding tunnel tours. It’s easy to see how this set the dramatist’s wheels in motion for a more engaging and thought provoking approach. Once described as “a city within a city,” Tranquille is resembles a ghost town nowadays, a ghost town with a fascinating past well suited to artistic exploration.

Functioning a little like the inner workings of the mind, the elaborate tunnel system that once linked doctors and nurses to patients at the former sanitarium provides an appropriate setting for a period drama that probes a turning point in psychiatric treatment.

For those who have never visited the tunnels, it can be a spooky experience after dark. Cooper directs a cast of local actors who take full advantage of the subterranean expanse with a few frightening moments tossed in for good measure to capitalize on the scare season.

The Disordered Mind is set in 1963, not long after Tranquille was converted from a centre for tuberculosis treatment to a mental health facility. Fern Mackenzie, a local woman suffering mental illness, is caught in the middle of a dispute between Dr. Merrick and Dr. Benny, appointed by the provincial minister of health to fix perceived problems at Tranquille. 

Referred to by staff as “The Fernado” for her wild flights of psychosis, Mackenzie struggles to gain control of her illness as Merrick and Benny argue over appropriate treatment.

The play is a roving drama; the audience is along for the ride, following the characters and the narrative as they move through the tunnel system with its interconnected rooms. At one stage, they are fully immersed, asked to choose which treatment is best for Mackenzie.

Chimera deserves credit for simply staging this unique drama, never mind pulling it off in almost seamless fashion, in the dark no less. Darkness serves as a powerfully dramatic device and a metaphor for Mackenzie's struggle.

Psychiatric treatment has evolved over the decades in often controversial directions, from lobotomies to psychotherapy and electroshock therapy, to the emergence of psychopharmacology using drugs. Tranquille represents that evolution in no small way, its closure part of the “communitization” mentioned in the play.

It was in 1963 when U.S. President John Kennedy led the way, creating community health centres for patients discharged from state psychiatric hospitals of the notoriously inhumane sort depicted in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Even that seemingly progressive move grew to be controversial as people were released into the community, often with inadequate social supports, a legacy that continues to this day.

There are three shows a night at Tranquille, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening until Oct. 30. Tickets can be purchased through Kamloops Live! Box Office.

 

James Graff says:
September 22, 2016 07:59am

-Ooooo, spooky. You best count how many people are going in on the theatrical evening...just to see exactly how many are coming back out at the end of the evening. !

'Never know you know.' : For the corridors of the mind are a place one shouldn't lightly trifle 'within....'

-As beyond the lucid imagination are reaches of the mind, whereby the cobwebs that have come to cover over the most inner and perhaps most chilling and strange thoughts -left peaceably in the recesses of one's cranium, until now- might so provoke an unanticipated wild thought or two… in from the depths of those newly discovered, 'Underground Passages.' !

Spooky. Have fun.

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