Friday, May 10, 2019

Brain Problems by Malcolm Barrett

Malcolm Barrett - Photos by Eugene Byrd

By Joe Straw

A brain arteriovenous malformation may not cause any signs or symptoms until the AVM ruptures, resulting in bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage). In about half of all brain AVMs, hemorrhage is the first sign.

But some people with brain AVM may experience signs and symptoms other than bleeding. In people without hemorrhage, signs and symptoms of a brain AVM may include:
  • Seizures
  • Headache or pain in one area of the head
  • Muscle weakness or numbness in one part of the body
Some people may experience more-serious neurological signs and symptoms, depending on the location of the AVM, including:
  • Severe headache
  • Weakness, numbness or paralysis
  • Vision loss
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion or inability to understand others
  • Severe unsteadiness
Symptoms may begin at any age but usually emerge between ages 10 and 40. Brain AVMs can damage brain tissue over time. The effects slowly build up and often cause symptoms in early adulthood.

Once you reach middle age, however, brain AVMs tend to remain stable and are less likely to cause symptoms. – Mayo Clinic –

They are probably best friends, the best of friends on the planet.  Unusual dressers and lovely together in the way they just mesh in the apartment they share.

Donnie (Malcolm Barrett) and Emma (Kim Hamilton) love each other.  There’s no question about that. It’s obvious.  They can say the most unpredictable things to one another and neither one will be fazed by off-the-cuff or provocative remarks. Their love is amicable and happily platonic.

Emma is sometimes gnarly, which is only a slight problem and easily remedied.  But Donnie has brain problems, something he can’t help – a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) if you must know.   

Ammunition Theatre Company presents Brain Problems, a new comedy by Malcolm Barrett – directed by Bernardo Cubría and produced by Karen Sours Albisua at the Pico Playhouse through May 19, 2019.

A big bottle of prescription pills sets in plain sight, on another level of the coffee table. When Donnie has the need, he takes the pill and chews it down, waiting until the digested medicine makes a mad dash to his withering brain.

It is a forgone conclusion; Donnie will be dead, as dead as the doorbell, deader than Jacob Marley (not seen).  But he’s not dead now. While he’s telling everyone that he is inching his way into death, he looks perfectly normal.  It’s just something he says for effect.

Well, no use crying over split milk. They have get on with their lives and try to live normally.  What little time is left must be – productive time.  

And so the friends meet, Zoe (Tina Huang), Josh (Jason Ryan Lovett), Ray (Michael Feldman), and Cynthia (Brit Manor) – all seeking to save the world. At least that’s something they can save.  

L- R Brit Manor, Michael Feldman, Tina Huang, Jason Ryan Lovett

But, even in a normal state of mind, Donnie finds this meeting – à la Robert’s Rules of Order – perplexing. It’s as if he were, or has some kind of a relapse, but not at this moment. In other moments, they become all too obvious.  

And, it’s neither here nor there, that Donnie spills the beans with a few truths. He blurts out that Ray is gay, and Ray’s girlfriend, Zoe, is having sex with their mutual friend, Josh.

And wouldn’t you know it, Ray lets everyone know that Donnie just outed him, in his living room, and in the company of his friends.  

Donnie, caught off guard, is a little surprised by the things he says, or sees in this terminal stage of his life and, at this point, visuals fly by from all different directions, including the dancing penises – happy visual projectiles that sing.

Donnie, has a friend, Malcolm (Brandon Scott), that visits him.  Malcolm is his wingman, his second, his alternative self, the parrot on his shoulder, and mostly his imaginative self. Malcolm has the ability to move among the quiet and at times frozen unsuspecting friends to impart his wisdom, in whatever form that takes. Malcolm is ultimately the taker.

One thing is sure, Emma and Donnie are so tight that Emma is the only other person that sees Malcolm.

Malcolm Barrett’s play is extremely funny!  Smartly written, and the laughs come fast and furious. The play works on fascinating levels, negotiating real time and space, where reality can also be an out-of-body experience or a fragment of misaligned cells running amok.  Either way we are placed into two realities, Donnie’s reality – and the reality of what is going only in Donnie’s deteriorating brain.

Benardo Cubría, the director, is spot on with the actors who move effortlessly in and out of reality and through the fourth wall. Cubría takes us there and asks us to take a leap of faith, into a reality within ourselves. Life, death, time, and imagination have no boundaries in theatre and this is an example of supreme art of expressive theatre. Cubría’s perspicacity and knowledge of the craft of theatre is outstanding.  

Kim Hamilton, and Malcolm Barrett

Kim Hamilton is excellent as Emma, the friend and roommate who knows her roommate so well that she brings him in and out of whatever is happening in his brain. With all the mayhem, dancing, and meetings, there is one constant person in his life, Emma.  And the ending is remarkable. It is a simple moment - of her being present and in the moment - that was astonishing and one that I will carry with me for a long while.  

Tina Huang has a lot of funny moments as Zoe. She’s in and out of a relationship in a heartbeat and where that leads us is anyone guess.  It seems there must be more to the character, finding a relationship, making it solid, and then moving on to the one who is dying.  

Jason Ryan Lovett has a lot of fun as Josh – the Dudley-Do-Right of this group. Lovett lets it all go in this romp and is having too much fun.

Brit Manor plays Cynthia a bi-sexual woman slightly attracted to the man who is ill in a bi-sexual way, neither in nor out, together or apart. Manor has an incredible presence on stage and is very watchable.

Brandon Scott has a lot of funny moments as Malcolm, the invisible consciousness, who shuffles mysteriously in the background, one suppose is waiting for his real self to croak. And what happens after that is anyone’s guess. Scott is all over the place, doing funny things.  But is he the guide to the great mysterious beyond? Certainly, an objective leading in that direction would only add to the character.     

Michael Feldman is Ray, the gay man.  That’s all.  Feldman and his facial expressions light up the room.  There is more to add to this character in terms of objective and his relationship with Donnie that progresses that relationship along. Or, perhaps we need something more in the writing.

Malcolm Barrett is excellent as Donnie. Donnie is not reticent, says what’s on his mind to get his truth out, never mind that he might be destroying someone’s life in the process. He’s dying, and he is getting away with everything.  Barrett takes us in and out of his reality effortlessly. There is probably more room to add to the characteristics of a man suffering with AVM. Small thing to add to his already outstanding performance.  

These understudies did not perform the night I was there: Ahmed Best, Alice Hunter, Nicole Pacent, Peter Pasco, Michael Rachlis, Karen Sours Albisua, and Jonathan Tchaikovsky.

Other members of the crew that make the night a special night are as follows:

Amanda Knehans – Set Designer
Mischa Stanton – Sound Designer
Masai Mitchell – Lighting Designer
Beth Morgan – Costume Designer
Stephen Rowan – Puppet Master
Brit Manor – Dance Choreographer
Ahmed Best – Fight Choreographer
Arturo de la Garza – Graphic Design
Camella Cooper – Stage Manager
Ken Werther Publicity – Press

There is something magical about the Ammunition Theatre Company.  The talent is top notched and the vibes are exquisite.  

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves to laugh.


The Pico
10508 W. Pico Blvd.

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