I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

Despite the passage of over 40 years since it was first published, the psychiatric issues raised by Joanne Greenberg's famous account of her struggle with schizophrenia remain timely, particularly given the current controversies raging over the ubiquitous use of antidepressants (and other mood- and mind-altering drugs) by adults and children.

In playwright Walter L. Newton's script, the debate between traditional psychotherapeutic exploration and pre-emptive chemical intervention is further sharpened by his borrowings from To Redeem One Person Is To Redeem the World, Gail A. Hornstein's 2000 biography of Greenberg's noted physiotherapist, Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.

Employing three brightly costumed, imaginatively decorated monsters to represent the voices haunting Deborah Klein, the autobiographical subject, and cross-hatching these internal dialogues with sessions between doctor and patient, Newton paints a portrait of mental illness rare in its realism.

Photo of Karalyn Pytel as Deborah Klein
Karalyn Pytel as Deborah Klein
Photo: Walter L. Newton
Pinned between these worlds—the murky stone-faced medieval towers upstage, evoking the most hideous asylums, and a series of interiors as needed downstage—Karalyn Pytel's Deborah writhes and cowers, and, alternately, analyzes her own predicament with a lucidity that impresses her therapist, the irrepressible Dr. Fried.

Pytel's characterization is impressive in the detail of its psychotic indications, especially in her seemingly involuntary hand gestures, self-inflicted abuses, and facial distortions. The uniqueness of her disturbance is underscored by an equally creative turn from Kellie Rae Rockey as Carla, Deborah's institutionalized cohort.

Photo of Paige L. Larson as Dr. Fried and Karalyn Pytel as Deborah Klein
Paige L. Larson as Dr. Fried
and Karalyn Pytel as Deborah Klein
Photo: Walter L. Newton
In addition to Deborah's journey, Newton uses Dr. Fried's commentary to amplify Greenberg's plea for more analysis and less medication. With a thick German accent and a gait that bears witness to the doctor's dogged determination, Paige L. Larson brings us an heroic Fried—compassionate toward her patient, steadfast in her isolated beliefs, and, finally, susceptible to her own demons.

Though not given a lot to work with during the early scenes, Rick Bernstein and Karen Kargel, as Jacob and Esther Klein, Deborah's parents, slowly piece together the trappings of a difficult marriage that eventually exhibit an impressive gravity. Clyde Sacks is a sinister and slithering Anterrabae, the chief god of Deborah's compensatory world of Yr.

Never having been workshopped, Newton's script could use some tweaking, particularly in the early sketches of the parents' relationship and its contribution to Deborah's illness. Additionally, the rough texture of the heavily episodic first act needs to be smoothed out by reconceiving the scene changes to eliminate some blackouts and speed the action around the stage.

Overall, though, the dramatic arc is a compelling mix of personal, familial, and professional themes that represent the actual events in a way the 1977 film does not. Newton's coup de grāce, a multi-layered denouement in which the fortunes of Deborah and Dr. Fried reverse, is an especially imaginative piece of writing.

Miners Alley Playhouse's production of I Never Promised You A Rose Garden runs through November 13th. 303-935-3044.

Bob Bows


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