by Carole Di Tosti
One never knows the extent of another’s emotional pain, torment, inner hell and self-hatred to make a cogent judgment about how they should cope with their debilitating mental conditions. Oftentimes, not even they understand or can fathom how to deal with the who and the what of their mind’s interplay with itself and the world around it, as it sparks off a myriad of emotions that cave in on each another and create a daily abyss of darkness and terrorizing pain.
So it goes for the tragically, humorously, emotionally toxic Adam Strauss (writer/performer), who can’t get out of his own way or come to the end of himself in his solo show The Mushroom Cure directed by Jonathan Libman. Strauss viscerally and palpably makes us “get” his extreme mental/emotional debilitation whose end symptoms spew up from the deeper iceberg depths to pierce the surface and manifest as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
Strauss, a professional comedian, bounces against the ropes of acting: ignoring the fourth wall, striking the right tone, pacing and pitch of solo performance theatricality. He characterizes and behaviorizes his extreme mental illness as he briefly discusses his coping travails downing a host of pharmacological drugs that would make your head spin, literally. When drugs and therapy don’t work, he embarks on the quest for a cure, using an infinitely dynamic knowledge source at his disposal, (Google). He discovers a study proposing that Psilocybin has been used to “successfully” treat OCD.
Of course, no one has mentioned that OCD is a symptom of the trenchant, infected soul wound that profoundly encompasses Strauss’ mind, emotions and being. Strauss does not know himself and it is this ultimate knowledge that he eventually slams into by the conclusion of the show. How he gets there is a convoluted path, like all pathways toward enlightenment and one step gives way to digressions and interminable circles and dead ends.
And so it goes for Strauss as he tells us the story of his journey to finally procure some magic mushroom and the individuals he meets along the way: his dealer SLO (who works at a sloth’s pace attempting to find it), a therapist who is in worse emotional and mental shape than Strauss (Strauss provides him with Zanex), girlfriend Grace (the name is blunt instrument irony), paramedics, police and others, all of whom we imagine through Stauss’s too pat characterizations and voice modulations.
Strauss takes us on his fatally flawed magic carpet ride through angst, impatience, self-aggrandizement, selfishness, manic self-absorption, misogyny, misanthropy, the perfection of overblown narcissism, aggression, bitterness, sardonic self-hatred and every other negative emotional ingredient one can concoct as a dish fit for the devil. Some of his states are humorous, his commentary funny. Other sections are tedious and one or two audience members nodded off, the punctuation for ramblings that should have been edited to maintain audience interest and curiosity and keep the narration solid, even.
Strauss’ story has the potential for a gripping arc of development and the poignant revelation of the human condition if the pathway is properly opened with moments that breathe of silent meditation, coupled with an actor’s confidentiality of tone to elicit the audience’s profound consideration. Where Strauss most succeeds is in relating his “hallucinogenic” experience breaking through to his inner being when he takes the mushroom. It is then Strauss’ prose soars; he becomes a visionary. It’s a great moment, too little, too late. The storytelling becomes redirected from purpose and intent; the genius of authenticity is sacrificed for banal situational humor.
Strauss clarifies no one is perfect, least of all himself. The production might have been perfect, brilliant genius: if the script sections were tightened, if tepid sections that flat-lined (mild audience response, head noddings), were jettisoned. With an actor’s persona, not comedian’s, Strauss needs to work on a balance of tone struck with the audience immediately, shedding good will and wisdom. After all, he tells the story in flashback. This requires the actor’s subtlety as he engages the audience through the lens of his more enlightened condition, and relates the wild, woolly woes of his past.
As a shorter piece, The Mushroom Cure might have been magnificent, illuminating, humorously scintillating. As is, the show is funny, revealing and enjoyable.
The Mushroom Cure runs 100 minutes with no intermission at The Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street NY, NY), extended thru August 13. You can purchase tickets by phone (212 989-2020) or at the website: