Big Pharma

Every generation has had its cross to bear—the "Me generation" had divorce, the baby boomers had the Vietnam War and nuclear brinkmanship, and their parents had World War II and the Great Depression, just to name a few. In Jennifer Berry's one-woman show, Big Pharma, the writer/actress seeks to define Generation X's burden as being under siege by the psycho-pharmaceutical industry.

Using an effective mix of multimedia and twenty well-etched characters drawn from personal experience and interviews, Berry examines the growing power of the legal drug industry and it's effect on herself, her friends, and her generation.

Directed by Heidi Rose Robbins (who also shaped the standout Baring Fruit, a one-woman show with local favorite Elizabeth Rainer), Big Pharma is quick-paced and filled with relevant details and emotional poignancy.

Excerpts from Berry's interview with a marketing account executive for a commonly prescribed anti-depressant drug serve as the premise for examining the industry's "one-size fits all" strategy and its self-serving rationalizations, including its influence in Congress and with the Food and Drug Administration (which began allowing the advertising of drugs directly to consumers beginning in 1997, and the use of anti-depressants by children in 2003).

Berry's portrayal of this nasal, condescending, glasses-on-the-end-of-the-nose spokeswoman is effectively intercut with personal stories that illustrate the misdiagnoses and, in many cases, the lack of diagnoses by doctors under pressure to prescribe anti-depressants from health insurance agencies and malpractice insurance laws; Berry pulls no punches, and each tragedy makes it mark.

The details behind Berry's claims are well-researched, succinct, and striking; coupled with her finely-tuned characterizations, they shape a powerful case against a psycho-pharmaceutical breakthrough that's way out of control, exacerbated by the demands of earnings-per-share on the corporations licensed to sell the stuff.

In the course of this step-by-step indictment of America's schizophrenic approach to drugs ("Just say 'No'" and "Ask your doctor."), we meet a host of Berry's friends and acquaintances, including: Marty—one of the "best and brightest," stressed at work, without a meaningful relationship, and generally unhappy—who sees an add for Prozac in "Cosmo"; Helen—a part-time employed, always-tired new mother, her husband now traveling more for his job, suddenly seeing herself as a dumpy housewife—who starts taking Paxil while she's still breastfeeding her baby; and Ricky—a precocious child, upset and confused by his mother's affair, becoming anxious at school, diagnosed as hallucinatory—who is prescribed an anti-depressant, becomes listless, and is now "just like everybody else."

But in effectively detailing the abuses of "Big Pharma," as the industry lobby has come to be called, Berry gives short shrift to the effective uses of anti-depressants. In a talk-back (Saturday nights only) that followed the performance, a couple of audience members gave examples of their own or their friends' beneficial results from the use of such prescriptives.

And while Berry doesn't deny that beneficial uses exist, her finely-documented argument on the abuses of anti-depressants—revealing a well-orchestrated industry campaign targeting women and children, and complicity in this "profit-over-people" strategy by our elected representatives, the medical profession, and the media—is weakened by her oversight of the legitimate remedies for imbalances in brain chemistry.

Nevertheless, Berry's Big Pharma stands on its own as a engaging appeal concerning a serious socio-political control-tool not unlike Huxley's Soma in Brave New World or Orwell's Victory Gin in 1984.

Jennifer Berry's Big Pharma runs at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art through April 4th. 303-443-2122.

Bob Bows


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