Editor’s note: An online showing of “Call me Crazy” by Paula J. Caplan PhD was put on by A Disorder 4 Everyone in association with Mad in the UK and supported by Onlinevents on Friday, 11th December 2020.
When I was invited to review “Call me Crazy”, written and directed by Paula J Caplan, a clinical and research psychologist, playwright, author, advocate, filmmaker and activist from the US, I was aware that this was the first play she had ever written and that it had won second place in a national playwriting competition. It grabs the viewer from the first biblical scene so strongly that I kept forgetting that I was meant to retain an objective neutral reviewer’s eye, and instead I was immediately fully immersed. My first AD4E live event in London had the same effect on me, touching my heart, changing my life and enlisting me as an activist.
“Call me Crazy” and AD4E have another significant similarity. They are comfortable to engage with, almost simplistic in their presentation and their challenge to the pseudo-science of the psychiatric diagnostic model. Yet they both expose a deep ethical injustice that continues to resonate long after an AD4E event has finished, or the curtain has closed. “Call me Crazy” was written to be performed on a stage, yet it has been cleverly re-structured to have just as much impact online. AD4E has similarly metamorphosed to embrace our post Covid-19 online world, through powerfully moving poetry evenings. The arts manage to give voice to so many survivors of our toxic system of “care” that frequently harms rather than helps. Therefore, delivering this important message, via a play that can be enjoyed at a surface level, yet is also fundamentally transformative, is simply put…clever.
The play is set on the last day of a year’s therapy training for its protagonist Harmony, who in contrast to her name, causes significant disharmony when she dares to question her male dominating supervisor and his other sycophantic trainees about the legitimacy of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The play takes you on a journey which switches between drama and music, the serious and the absurd. When the supervisor describes a patient as “nice looking women, seductive manner” I was struck not only by the contemptuous misogyny of the comment, but also that today in 2020 patients are still judged by their appearance and frequently described in their notes as “well kempt” for example.
“Call me Crazy” consists of bite sized scenes that explore so many differing facets of the system, from male dominance and the patriarchal society to corrupt links between pharmaceutical and insurance companies. There are uncomfortable scenes where the therapists discuss or, worse still, joke about their patients behind their backs. There are numerous disturbing points, some offered via the quiz show format of “What’s my diagnosis?” This is a fabulous fun quiz where it takes “just a few minutes to assign a label” from narrow yes or no answers, by spinning a wheel. There is “a word from our sponsors APA (American Psychiatric Association) who “sell your favourite psychiatric pills” at their convention. The lines both entertain and disturb, as the subject matter is expertly portrayed, so that the viewer is torn between horror and enjoyment. Meanwhile, Harmony’s voice gradually gets louder as she explores her own moral and ethical dilemmas and holds up a mirror of accountability to her colleagues through her persistence in exposing the unscientific nature of the DSM.
An additional stroke of brilliance is getting to “meet” Sigmund Freud’s mother, played by Paula herself. She delivers a fascinating and historically accurate performance, and I as a viewer and ironically a Jewish psychotherapist laughed out loud on recognising that I, and probably many others, have never considered Freud’s relationship to his mother.
I could continue, but you get the message. “Call me Crazy” is a phenomenal experience. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the other AD4E events, and it ends, as all great plays do, with yet another significant unexpected twist.
You can organise your own production or reading by contacting Paula at www.paulajcaplan.net.