Nicholas Ray + Cortisone = Quality Lunatics
Ed Avery, hero of Nicholas Rays film Bigger Than Life (1956), has a rare medical condition that only cortisone can treat. Theres just one little catch: Too much cortisone makes you psychotic. The movie follows Eds psychological disintegration, as he morphs from genial suburban dad into Old Testamentobsessed madman.
Daniel Fishs elegant stage version condenses this tale of conformity and dementia into a succinct two-handerwith an outlandishly un-succinct title: Tom Ryan Thinks Hes James Mason Starring in a Movie by Nicholas Ray in Which a Mans Illness Provides an Escape From the Pain, Pressure and Loneliness of Trying to Be the Ultimate American Father, Only to Drive Him Further Into the More Thrilling Though Possibly Lonelier Roles of Addict and Misunderstood Visionary.
Christina Rouner and Thomas Jay Ryan expertly play all the roles, leaping abruptly between scenes and erupting from unnerving calm into manic fury. They slump against a slanting gray wall (designed by Peter Ksander), which implies both a film set and a hospital room; rolling lights create close-ups or throw distorted shadows behind them. Fish musters memorable images: a hilariously mechanical sex scene, a spilled milk episode worth crying over.
As Ryan and Rouner gabble their way through Bigger Than Lifes dialogue, its like watching two lunatics tell a story of descent into insanity. When Eds madness finally overtakes the stage, Fishs spare vision only makes the plunge more profoundtransporting us from the delusions of 1950s Americana into the depths of a deranged mind.
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