There is a lot going on in David Rabe’s Good for Otto, a play about the trials and tribulations of treating mental illness. Fourteen actors and, at least as many, theatergoers seated on stage is a lot to process. In fact too much to process.
Set somewhere in northwest Connecticut, Dr. Michaels (Ed Harris) and Evangeline Ryder (Amy Madigan) are therapists at a mental health facility working with an assortment of patients suffering from an assortment of mental illnesses. A senior citizen won’t who get out of bed, PTSD, suicide, abandonment, hoarding, to name a few. But the person that seems in most need of head shrinking is the head shrink, Dr. Michaels. He’s approaching retirement, yet he is still dealing with his mother’s suicide which occurred when he was nine years old. Some therapy happens in real time and some is in his imagination. Interspersed with everyone’s angst are musical numbers from early last century. (I’m still trying to figure out the relevance of these musical interludes). Mr. Rabe adds another plot line towards the end of the play when he introduces another new character – bureaucrat from an insurance company who doesn’t care about the patients’ well-being just the bottom line. There is enough material for many, many plays in Good for Otto. I’m as exhausted writing about this play as I was sitting through the three hour running time.
In the aftermath of this country’s mass shootings, we have seen the difficulty in identifying and treating mental illness and it seems that Mr. Rabe might be making a statement about the failing mental health system. Or perhaps, Mr. Rabe is simply reflecting on how long therapy can take and how it doesn’t always achieve positive results. Harris, Madigan and the great cast do their best to bring a humanity to treating mental illness, but if Good for Otto was a shorter play with more fully developed and fewer characters, it might have had a greater impact on me. Instead I felt it overly long and overly complicated and I left the theater frustrated and bored. LAR
The New Group, The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street
Ticket Price: $40-125
Discounts: None available at this time
Runs thru: April 15, 2018
Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes, one intermission