Images of Mental Illness Through Text and Performance

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Theoretical inquiry into the representation of mental illness on stage has not kept pace with theatre scholarship relating to images of marginalized populations as presented on stage, nor with developments in current thinking about mental disease. This collection examines the dynamics of characterization and the problematics of representation within the context of new trends in pharmacology and reconfigured definitions of mental disease, at a time when unprecedented attention is being given to the complex realities of living with mental disorders.


“Although theatre practitioners have made great strides in altering customarily negative images of marginalized groups, perceptions of the mentally ill have received scant attention. The mentally ill are ridiculed with pejorative stereotypes and misconceptions frequently embedded in theatrical characterizations. . This study is an innovative text that speaks to the complex manifestations of mental illness in dramatic literature … The employed methodology synthesizes the history of mental illness, with script analysis forging a comprehensive examination of mental illness through fact and fiction. The historical evolution of madness and its heterogeneous methods of treatment are contextualized within socio-political constructs mirrored in dramatic literature and film … Dramaturgy is the most pervasive genre subliminally disseminating cultural ideologies through theatre, television and film. Negative images of mental illness permeating media cerebrally formulate collective perspective and attitudes in the audience that are accepted as factual and are often embraced by civic and social institutions to differentiate between normative and aberrant behaviors; and determine how a person will respond to the mentally ill … Positing mental illness as the final bastion of societal intolerance, and cognizant that characterizations represented in entertainment are include to maintain the status quo of stereotypical images of the mentally ill, this text challenges students, actors, and artists to reassess interpretations of such images in an effort to create proactive compassionate paradigms. The essays inspire readers, playwrights, and performing artists to abandon the misconceptions in connection with mental illness, and assume the responsibility of transitioning beyond stereotypes of the mentally ill and advance to the noble calling of dramatists, that demands creation of honest characterizations of a marginalized, rapidly increasing subculture in today’s society.” - (from the Commendatory Preface) Elizabeth Amelia Hadley, Simmons College

" ... a timely, compassionate and insightful study and one that serves to demystify misconceptions about mental illnesses as fictionalized in film and dramatic literate. This volume challenges, in particular, the age worn myth that those who suffer from mental disorders endure a necessary personal journey that achieves cultural catharsis and redemption through the victim's tragic decline. As the book's editors and contributing writers, Kaplan and Rudolph skillfully navigate the reader through a two-part chronologically organized volume that includes other academic and medical professional's perspectives and commentaries on the subject of mental illness using examples drawn from the full historic range of dramatic literature. The latter part of the book concludes with an interview demonstrating that current playwrights are beginning to incorporate their understanding of maturing psychiatric approaches, responsible genetic studies and improved "modern miracle drugs" into the construction of the mentally challenged characters in their plays. The end result is that title informs its readers that advancements in both science and art are causing a necessary and long needed rebellion against destructive historically embedded literary and performance stereotypes." - Sheila Hickey Garvey, Professor of Theater, Southern Connecticut State University and President of The Eugene O'Neill Society, ('00-'02)

"Given recent attention to medical advances in the treatment and understanding of mental health, this study presents a timely reminder of the way in which dramatic representation can recirculate or re-map social views of the mentally ill. This highly accessible volume takes a compassionate look at mental dysfunction in a wide range of contemporary plays. A significant contribution to current theatre scholarship, the volume also provides a useful reference for practitioners, educators, playwrights, and theatre-goers." - Jenny Spencer, Associate Professor of English, University of Massachusetts/Amherst

Table of Contents

1. Evolving Perceptions of Mental Illness Through Text I: Conceptualizing Treatment
2. Evolving Perceptions of Mental Illness Through Text II: Rethinking the Figure of the Mad Genius
3. The Revolt of the Senses: Hallucination, Revelation and Resistance in Antonio Buero-Vallejo’s The Foundation
4. The Cage is My Mind: Object and Image in Depicting Mental Illness on Stage
5. The Quadruple Whammy of Blanche DuBois: The Worst of These is Crazy
6. Mythic Avatars of Borderline and Narcissistic Rage and Emptiness: Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and Strindberg’s Miss Julie
7. Two Interviews: Speaking with Ron Perera, Composer, on the Adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper for Opera and with Paula Caplan, author of Call Me Crazy

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