NEW YORK—The strength of one’s beliefs take center stage in SM Dale and Barry Rowell’s fascinating 3Christs. The show is presented by the Peculiar Works Project at the Judson Memorial Church.
Clyde (Donald Warfield), Joseph (Arthur Aulisi), and Leon (Daryl Lathon) are all patients at a state mental hospital, and each firmly believes he is Jesus Christ. In an effort to better understand their condition, psychologist Dr. Milton (Christopher Hurt), who has diagnosed these men as paranoid schizophrenics, intends to study the trio while putting their belief systems to the test.
The doctor begins by putting the three men together to see how they will react. It quickly becomes apparent their delusions are strong; each holds firm to his certainty while believing the others are wrong. After all, Clyde and Leon are patients in a mental hospital, as Joseph points out.
These meetings do seem to have one rather interesting effect. As noticed by Nurse Parker (Catherine Porter), who’s in charge of the ward to which the men have been assigned, the three are now often together, whereas originally they were all loners. Now they are always there for one another as a sort of unspoken support system—a system that will soon be sorely tested.
In the weeks and months that follow, Dr. Milton continually alters his tactics, eventually placing two of the patients in individual sessions with other staff members, each working under Dr. Milton’s guidance to see how far the patients can be pushed before their beliefs start to crumble.
The interactions of the three patients are interesting to watch, as each has his own personality traits.
Clyde is the angriest, the most fixed in his delusions, and the one most likely to become violent. Joseph is more soft-spoken and prone to facial tics and bodily contortions. He’s also easier to be led, which makes a later act of defiance from him all the more shocking. As for Leon, he’s the most down to earth and talkative of the three, who also finds it easiest to relate to the doctors and his immediate surroundings.
There’s not enough information provided to allow one to see what makes any of the three men tick, which is actually a major point of the production. The audience is on par with Dr. Milton and his staff, which is on the outside looking in.
Another major issue examined is the question of how far it’s ethically permissible to go in a medical study, even when one has the necessary approvals to do so as Dr. Milton does here. This is true especially when any knowledge gained comes at the expense of a patient’s mental state, regardless of how delusional that state may initially be.
It’s a question that has Dr. Milton and Nurse Parker continually at odds. Dr. Milton and his staff use methods that unexpectedly awaken sexual feelings in one of these men, while another becomes dependent on a daily dose of medication that’s actually a placebo.
The only time the show goes off the rails is when Hurt takes on the role of a magician with Porter becoming his assistant as Dr. Milton tries to explain his latest idea for working with the three patients. This effect is not really necessary and seems more used as a way to break up the sameness of the various hospital scenes than anything else. The information in the scene could have easily been imparted in a less flamboyant manner.
Kelly O’Donnell’s direction is strong, though the show could use a bit of tightening here and there. The decision to use a church as the playing space was an inspired touch that becomes especially effective in the show’s closing moments. Kia Rogers’s lighting also figures importantly into the story. Unfortunately, the acoustics in the space are not that good; it is hard to hear the actors at various times.
Warfield, Aulisi, and Lathon are very good as the different patients, attempting to hold onto their beliefs even in the face of intense pressure. Hurt is fine as the officious Dr. Milton who sees the three men more as objects to be studied rather than as people. He doesn’t worry about any overall effect of his efforts.
Porter works well as the concerned Nurse Parker, someone who, like these patients, is eventually pushed to the limit and must take a stand.
Although none of the characters are given any real sort of back story, something especially the case with Drs. Yoder (Mick Hilgers) and Anderson (Jennifer Tsay), two members of the hospital staff, the tale itself is more than interesting enough to make up for those shortcomings.
An interesting story about the power of denial and the strength of belief—beliefs seen both in the patients and their doctor—3Christs makes for an absorbing journey.
Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square South
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or peculiarworks.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Closes: Sept. 28
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication the Stage.