By staff January 7, 2010

A look at the politics of mental illness with the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's Blue/Orange.

By Kay Kipling


The FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s production of Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange is billed as a comedy, and indeed there are many sharp satirical moments to be enjoyed. But as with any good satire, there are important dramatic points being made here as well, in the story of a young mental health patient caught up in Britain’s National Health system.


That patient is a black man, Chris (Will Little), who bounds onto the stage (an institutional-looking set, with a bowl of oranges on a table in the center the only real color to speak of, and therefore highlighted) with great energy and excitement. He’s convinced that after 28 days in the hospital for evaluation and treatment, he’s going home. His young doctor (Dane Dandrige Clark) is not so sure; he thinks Chris’ problems may warrant a longer stay. In fact, he thinks Chris may be a schizophrenic, one of the most serious and devastating psychiatric diagnoses that can be made, and one that in this case carries with it some heavy racial baggage.


His supervisor, an older doctor (Kenneth Stellingwerf), disagrees, at first in a smoothly patronizing way and, eventually, with a great deal more anger and manipulative behavior. His reason initially appears to be practical only: The hospital bed is needed for someone else, and 28 days is all Chris is going to get. But as the argument between the two professionals escalates, leaving Chris squarely in the middle, we discover other possible motives for his adamancy: He has a theory about ethnocentricity he’s trying to publish and Chris is a good research subject. As well, there seems to be the simple malevolent pleasure of wanting to inflict humiliation on his younger colleague, who himself is desperate to ensure a more secure future for himself.

 Will Little and Kenneth Stellingwerf in Blue/Orange.

As directed by Barbara Redmond, the back-and-forth between the doctors is quickly paced and high-tension, with all the speed and accuracy of a professional ping-pong match. Chris may be the ball in between, but while troubled and confused (he thinks he’s the son of a certain deposed African dictator), he’s also smart and defensive enough to resent his role in the debate. Little has a good lower-class British accent (his character is from Shepherd’s Bush) as opposed to the more polished ones of his helpers/tormentors, and his physical energy and movements are convincing for his character, too. Stellingwerf and Clark are both up to their tasks as well, but in an overlong Act II the power of their confrontation begins to pall somewhat; we’ve gotten the message by then and, like Chris, just want to get out of the room.


Blue/Orange continues through Jan. 24 at the Cook Theatre; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to  


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