A man staring aimlessly into the emptiness surrounding him. A woman hiding behind a chair, panicking about hypothetical buses. Another man, carefully pacing around holding his self-made sculpture of a face. And a doctor, wondering how he could have missed the borderline personality disorder of one of his patients. This all happened Monday evening on March 13, when I went to see the play Zo Nodig (meaning ‘as-needed’ as well as ‘so necessary’) by Creater’s John van de Ven. Four characters, yet played by only one actor: John.
John, who wrote the play together with Noortje Buiting, had based the story on his own experiences in a psychiatric hospital. This made the play so unbelievably powerful. The characters on stage all were amazingly realistic. And because these characters were based on real people, they weren’t just the iconic but corny psychiatric patient you see in movies so often. They were complex characters, persons with different layers of personalities, but also with different challenges to face at the same time.
John started playing as Fons. A middle-aged man with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and a major burn-out, yet someone with a very positive vibe. This man has the most quirks of the three patients, which made him the funniest one in my opinion. But funny in a good way. John was absolutely not making fun of this man, he was getting us all to love him.
Fons broke the fourth wall. That means he didn’t just start a monologue into thin air, but he really talked to us. He recognized the fact we were all there. He even started to talk to me personally (and I thought this would be a play were I would be save sitting in the very first row). A fragment of our conversation:
Fons: ‘So what do you do for a living?’
Me: ‘I write.’
Fons: ‘You write?! Wooooow! Cool! So you can write! Well, of course you can write, I mean… I can even write a little bit myself. But you can really write! What is it that you write, then?’
Me: ‘Well, plays, video scripts, sub—’
Fons: ‘Plays?! Woooooow!’
(To the other patients:) ‘Do you hear that? She writes plays! That’s so cool, maybe we can all do a little play later today, then!’
(To me:) ‘That’s so great. But now you’re here…’
Fons: ‘Well, it can happen to anyone, even the best of us.’
I was cracking up. First his desire to be in a play, while he was already acting in one. But then just regarding me as one of the patients who had this beautiful life outside, but was now an inhabitant of the psychiatric ward. Actually, that was both funny as touching. Because it’s true. It could happen to anyone. Anyone of us sitting there in the audience. That’s something to think about.
Then John transformed into Gio, an Italian lady with anxiety problems. She had a fear of going places. She would have panic attacks when traveling on a bus. She also had cancer. But because of her fear of going outside, she couldn’t go to treatment. This sounds very heavy and dramatic, but John managed to make this appear as a normal, almost daily life struggle. He didn’t make it too light, but just light enough for us all to handle. His Italian accent was not entirely convincing to me, because at certain points I would hear his Southern Dutch accent bleeding through. It kind of made it adorable to listen to however, so I wasn’t really bothered by that.
And then there was Johan, a man with a major depression. This person got to me most. Maybe because when he was playing, there would be only one single spot shining on him on stage. His surroundings were dark, just like his thoughts. This was unbelievably powerful. Or maybe I could relate to him most, because I have suffered from a (milder) form of depression myself in the past. Or maybe it was because this was the person closest to John himself, which made me connect to this character most. Johan said some stuff which really gave me pause for thoughts. For example, his doctor said he should stop thinking negative and embrace positive thoughts, to overcome his depression. Johan’s reply:
‘I believe I have the right to think negative thoughts. Negative thinking is a symptom of a depression. They go side by side. If you see a person in a wheelchair, would you tell them to just stand up and walk? Of course not! So how can you tell me to just stop thinking negative thoughts, then?’
There was one last character: the doctor. This person let us see one of the patients in another light; this patient also had a Borderline Personality Disorder. Some things we’ve heard before weren’t exactly truthful. The doctor blamed himself for not not seeing this immediately. But weren’t we all to blame? We believed all that had been said earlier, in fact we were even shocked at some points! We were all fooled. I thought it really added something to the play, when John played the doctor. Not only did we see a different side of the patient, the doctor also prevented the play from becoming a story that puts psychiatry in a bad light (because obviously all patients had their share of complaints).
There are various ways to play multiple characters on stage. John had chosen to do this by giving each character their own part of the stage with their own (very recognizable) chair. Each character had several monologues (with the exception of the one dialogue Fons had with me). In these monologues, they would still sometimes notice the other characters and even say something to them, but for the most part the monologues consisted of the patient’s inner thoughts. In my opinion, this was a beautiful way of portraying these people. Each character had their own importance of being there. The monologues also gave a certain peace to the play. That was nice, because the play was complex enough as it was.
Oh, fun fact: At the after party I saw the Dutch celebrity Pieter Derks! You probably do not know him (not even if you’re Dutch), but in the theater world he’s quite well-known. He improvised in the Tv program ‘In Goed Gezelschap’ (which means ‘in good company’), in which he was my favorite actor. In ‘Zo Nodig’, he was the light technician. And now he was just standing in this small foyer having a drink right next to me. After some doubt I found the courage to start a conversation with him and even ask him for a picture. I felt quite embarrassed to ask him this (after all, he’s just a complete stranger), but luckily he was a good sport and agreed!
So that concludes my adventure of the sixth play of my project. Have I made you curious about this play? Then I’ve got some good news for you! John is going to perform ‘Zo Nodig’ again on May 1, 2015 at 3 pm in the library ‘De Mariënburg’ of Nijmegen. I would certainly recommend it!