Stephen O'Rourke collects his funny and disturbing experiences working with the mentally ill in "The Longest Running Joke of the Twentieth Century."
By JOSHUA TANZER
Near the end of Stephen O'Rourke's monologue about his other, non-theater life working with the mentally ill, there is the story of a suicide attempt. An ugly one, with blood in every direction in every room. The police recommend a biohazard cleanup specialist, who comes in and sizes up the gore. "This is nothing," the man says. You should see what I had to clean up last night."
Let's think a moment about this one-time encounter. To Stephen, the mental ward supervisor, the body-parts cleanup guy has a job so deep into the muck of the human body that just imagining the details is disturbing. If one has to think about it at all, one's primary thought is: I'm glad somebody else is doing that so I don't have to think about it.
|THE LONGEST RUNNING JOKE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY|
|Written and performed by: Stephen O'Rourke.|
Directed by: Jase Draper.
|The Players Loft|
115 MacDougal Street
Fringe Festival 2008, Aug. 8-24, 2008
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O'Rourke himself is, in a sense, the biohazard cleanup man of the spirit instead of the body, and he is to us what the blood-and-guts cleanup guy is to him. So O'Rourke has put some of his experiences caring for the mentally ill into a one-man show called "The Longest Running Joke of the Twentieth Century," and this is our chance to hear about the job he is doing so we don't have to.
Yet, his stories are not a nonstop human massacre. Quite the opposite, in fact much of the show is quite funny. O'Rourke confirms something I've always thought about the schizophrenics that we encounter in city life: there are dangerous ones and there are entertaining ones.
There's a name, I have now learned, for what's wrong with the funny ones: they have a "fixed delusion." In other words, like one of O'Rourke's charges, somebody might be convinced he's the unintelligible, sneering, belching, one-eared Nicaraguan Elvis, and it doesn't hurt a soul. If that makes him happy, why not?
Naturally, all is not comedy and frivolity on the mental ward. O'Rourke's stories are a window into the personalities of the mentally ill and the struggle that goes into keeping them alive and functioning. The show is a little bit about O'Rourke's own personal journey and the toll that this work takes on a person, but it isn't really a soul-baring melodrama. It is a collection of very touching stories in which O'Rourke provides us eyes into the world of people who live where we never dare go.
|AUGUST 22, 2008|
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