About the Show
Penny is returning home after six weeks of residential treatment. In her absence, her mother, Melanie, created a Twitter account (@Shiny_Penny_1999) to help her meet people at the new school Penny will be attending in the fall and give her a foundation of where to start after treatment. Penny, however, doesn’t want to be shiny and feels outraged at her mother’s insistence at performing that everything is fine when Penny is truly battling depression on a daily basis. Tensions flair when Penny creates an alternate account (@Bad_Penny_69) to combat the forced persona of her mother’s account.
Why I Chose to See It
Wildwood Theatre is a new company in town, focusing on telling stories about mental health and combating the stigma around them. As “storytellers bound to reignite empathy,” they’re doing the kind of work I feel compelled to do in my own writing and I’m excited to see a new lens for theater and new work in general in the Twin Cities.
This is the sort of play I wish I’d seen about ten years ago, when I was undiagnosed with anxiety and struggling to come to terms with accepting that mental illness is A) far more common than we think, B) can affect anyone, and C) nothing to be ashamed of. This play is smart and funny, weaving Penny’s teenage growth and transition with transitioning to a life of self-care and openness. I have a lot in common with Penny – we express our struggle to communicate with anger (I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to see young women express anger on stage. It’s something I haven’t seen enough in theater), we spend a great deal of our time reading, and we want to talk openly and candidly about our mental illnesses. Having this character onstage alone is groundbreaking in a lot of ways. But it isn’t just Penny’s character who’s doing incredibly work (though I feel so much empathy for her I think it skews my view of everyone else). There’s Melanie, who’s reluctant to let go of the image she has of her daughter in her mind, which doesn’t match up to who Penny feels she really is. There’s the tension between creating an entire persona online versus having a mostly authentic persona (or as authentic as one can get in a limited amount of Twitter characters). There’s @IWantCandy, a high school student Melanie and Penny interact with online who appears to be a stereotypical bright, happy high school girl but is her own unique woman with her own unique struggles. Both Twitter Pennys are portrayed by actors who perform the Tweets, blending cyber life into real life in a way I really appreciate as a playwright (and something my MFA pal Allyson would really appreciate, making me wish she could see this show). Perhaps in the biggest surprise for me was Laura, Melanie’s coworker. I thought her firmly on Melanie’s side, pushing for Penny to be less troubled and just be happy. So imagine my surprise in Act 2 when (SPOILERS) Laura pulls out pill bottles from her purse and explains to Penny that she has had similar experiences.
At times, I really struggled with Melanie’s character only because she was so real to me. The play might require a certain suspension of belief that a parent would really create a Twitter profile and control a child’s life so much that she would dictate how far away her daughter could go to college. However, I know parents who told their kids what they could and could not major in, what classes they could take, etc. And as someone who’s experienced codependent relationships in my life, I can see a sort of codependence between Penny and Melanie. I do wish I had more backstory on Melanie and Penny’s relationship – not because I think it’s lacking in the play but because I just want more of it. I live every day of my life in the complex world that Melanie and Penny’s discussion inhabit so seeing that onstage is wonderfully comforting. It’s hard to hear at times, but so incredibly important to have stated and heard in front of an audience.
This play was really enjoyable and deals with mental illness, social media, and who we are versus the perceptions people have of us/who others believe us to be in a really lively, energetic way. I’m open about discussing my mental health but after seeing this show, I felt twenty times more open and immediately wanted to jump on Twitter (even though I rarely use the site) and use all the #endthestigma hashtags. Unfortuantely I wasn’t able to get this review up soon enough (the last performance is today at 2pm) so I can’t implore you to go see it. But you should absolutely keep Wildwood on your radar and seek out their future productions (hint hint: they have one in July). I’m so excited to see this theater creating work and I really look forward to seeing what else they create.
Handled is written by Shayne Kennedy and directed by Sarah Catcher and David Albino. It ran from April 25-28th at Off Leash Art Box. For future productions and show information, please visit their website.