Calgary Fringe – FRUITCAKE Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward

Fruitcake

 

FRUITCAKE Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward

August 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10, 2013

Artpoint Gallery

http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/393-fruitcake-ten-commandments-from-the-psych-ward

 

As an outsider looking in, I imagine that working as a psychiatric nurse requires compassion, patience and benevolence towards those who at times are unable to help themselves. I’ve been told by those in the profession that in order to survive the experience, one also needs to develop a good sense of dark humour about the whole thing. Laughter in the trenches, so to speak. Rob Gee’s FRUITCAKE Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward gives us a show that wonderfully illustrates both sides of the job.

A registered psychiatric nurse for eleven years, Gee has specialized in acute cases working at facilities in both the UK and Australia. He’s seen the worst of the worst and turned it into a funny, insightful, interesting and surprisingly touching sixty minute show of sorts. I say of sorts because Gee’s one man performance does not take the traditional confessional route that so many other Fringe show’s follow. Rather, Gee, who is now a full-time stand up poet, uses his new vocation to craft a show that is more vignette slam poetry than actual plot. And to make it work, he uses God.

Coming to us through the mellifluous voice of a hearty Caribbean woman, God announces each scene of Gee’s play by telling us one commandment of the psych ward including, “Thou shall honour the psyche” and a missive extolling the virtues of realizing that “it is what it is”. Following each heavenly order, Gee launches into a related skit of his experience with the patients and staff he encountered over the years. But it all starts with the super-charged and hilariously blunt ward nurse who rattles off the status of patients in the unit before taking what sounds like a much-needed break –  “Anita’s bookies are betting she’ll do herself in, Jess says she’d rather eat shit than move rooms and that’s pretty impressive considering she’s an anorexic, paranoid Andrea has been admitted for hitting a police officer with a rubber chicken at Safeway and Marin tried to pull his front teeth out but other than that he’s alright”. It’s a superbly performed, take no breath, breakneck delivery by Gee that sets up the characters in the show and gives us permission to laugh not at the patients per se, but at the circumstances they find themselves in. It’s this distinction that makes FRUITCAKE a quality show.

Gee is a funny guy and the stories he tells about his patients are bizarrely amusing – there’s Duncan the paranoid schizophrenic who is sure that the experiments that the people in his head are doing to him is the cause of his schizophrenia, Herb the speed freak who is unintentionally hilarious when high and then of course there’s Andrea, the chicken whacker who is just trying not to be poisoned. Gee’s imitations of these souls are laughter inducing to be sure, but at no time do we ever get the feeling that he’s mocking them. Underneath the comedy in this show is a respect and understanding for their plight and a healthy ability to laugh at what one can’t control.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than through one of the last patients we meet, a man in the midst of a stress induced psychotic episode who self-harms in the most gruesome of manners. Gee plays him without judgement and even though there is room for laughter in this scene, we are left more touched than amused. It’s an impressive balance.

 

 RATING

For Fringeaholics – It might feel more like a string of skits than a comprehensive show but Gee is a thoroughly compelling performer with a keen eye for dark humour and a sensitivity for his subject that is intelligent and endearing. SEE IT

For light Fringers – You’ll laugh and learn and be happy to spend one hour with this talented performer. A great addition to the few shows you’ll catch this Fringe. SEE IT

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