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Running the Asylum


My parents used to threaten me with weird people praying to the refrigerator," Dr. Roger Tomkins (Jamie Wax) says " an inauspicious beginning for a psychotherapist. But the line gets one of the many laughs that made Goin' to Jackson (recently on the boards at Le Chat Noir) such a pleasure. The show boasts a cast of five or a cast of one, depending on how you count. Jackson presents four mentally disturbed inmates at the East Louisiana Hospital in addition to their doctor. All are played by Wax, who also wrote the script. Maybe Wax suffers from a multiple personality disorder, or more a 'versatile personality complex." I apologize for all these old-fashioned, pejorative-sounding terms, but political incorrectness is part of the fun in the show.

There's no set and very little costuming. Wax just enters as a different character and launches into a monologue. The bio in the program says he started out as a standup comic at the age of 14. He no doubt draws on that standup experience as much as any acting he's done. In any case, Tomkins is seeking a poster person and spokesmodel for the mental facility where he's chief of staff. We get to meet the finalists in what amounts to an American Idol contest for the mentally dysfunctional. There's Bryce Giamani who is 'mildly retarded" or, as he prefers, 'a little slow." Giamani calls into question the whole framework of sanity and insanity when he notes that he was declared mentally unfit to enter the military. 'Mentally unfit for a war!" he roars, as though there was such a thing as being mentally fit for a war. It's Catch-22 all over again.

We know correctness is in deep trouble when another character taps into the spotlight with a blind man's cane. This is Mark Clairewood, and he is staggered by the idiocy of the sighted as they try to deal with those who lack sight. This goes all the way back to his mother, who tried to discourage him from masturbating by telling him he would regain his sight if he continued. He tells us, wryly, that she lied. Clairewood also fondly remembers a woman who set off a fireworks display to entertain a school for the blind. A couple of hundred blind teenagers politely applauded the pyrotechnics they couldn't see.

One of the most amusing characters is an aging black woman named Cleontyne Willis, who has chronic bladder trouble. Cleontyne shuffles around in her scarf and housedress making cranky remarks and complaints and winning you over to her side.

Finally, there is Darrell Brumley, but he is not as clearly drawn as the others in the sense that you can't quite nail him down. He's sort of gay, though by no means flaming. I suppose you might call him maladjusted, but that's not a term that springs to mind when you think of Sigmund Freud. Maybe Brumley would be a good poster child for Jackson because he doesn't really belong there.

Though by no means a musical comedy, Jackson features some songs. The characters get to sing their feelings from time to time.

I should to tell you that the night I went to see Jackson, Le Chat was packed. The premise of a one-man comedy set in the East Louisiana State Hospital didn't keep the word from getting out " the show is great fun. After all, Jamie Wax doesn't really have much of a local following. Although his resume is impressive, he's not a familiar a face in the local theater scene. His most recent appearance was in Doubt at Southern Rep in which he played a priest under a cloud of suspicion for child abuse. He gave a straightforward, understated performance. But if you saw that show, there's no way you would have suspected the extravagant hijinks Wax is capable of.

Outside New Orleans, Wax has been and continues to be involved in numerous projects. He is the author of seven plays. He also collaborated on Evangeline, a musical that was broadcast on PBS, and Passages: A Story of Lewis and Clark, which was made into an award-winning special for public television. Wax continues to tour with Goin' to Jackson and may bring it back to New Orleans.

Jamie Wax plays doctor and patients in his one-man show Goin' to Jackson.
  • Jamie Wax plays doctor and patients in his one-man show Goin' to Jackson.

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