Sick. A play by Elizabeth Kenny, 2013.
Reviewed by Tom Pyle
At last month’s New Jersey Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association annual conference (November 2015), I witnessed an incredible performance. The keynote speaker was actress/activist Elizabeth Kenny. Instead of a speech, she presented a one-woman play. Titled Sick, the drama was about her own turbulent psychodyssey. As her website describes, “Sick is a true story of misdiagnosis and medication is a fearless, unsentimental and hilarious testament to our ability to find ourselves, even in the darkest conditions. As a parent struggling alongside a loved one struggling with schizophrenia, it moved me to tears.
About Elizabeth Kenny:
Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, teacher, and lecturer. She has been working in the professional theater since 1993 and became an Artistic Associate at New City Theater in 1998, working as a generative collaborative artist under the direction of John Kazanjian. Elizabeth has honed her writing and contemporary performance skills as a key collaborator, developer, and performer of new work by playwrights Kristen Kosmas and Ki Gottberg, and is an accomplished solo performer, receiving critical acclaim for performances including Neil Labute’s Bash and Ki Gottberg’s The Compendium of Nastiness. Elizabeth and Kristen Kosmas founded Shady Lane Productions in 2007. Shady Lane is a theater company focused on the development of new work that is intimate, immediate, and provocative.
Prescribed medication for an ovarian cyst, Elizabeth began having inexplicable reactions. She was plunged into the maelstrom. One thing led to another, all to nowhere good, even to psych hospitals and varied psychosis diagnoses. Thank God for her parents, who didn’t believe all their desperate daughter had been told, including Elizabeth’s many supposed psychotic disabilities. Finally, a random doctor determined the original medication’s toxicity–and began reversing all the erroneous diagnoses, prescriptions, psychic trauma–and, hopefully, stigma.
About her play, Sick :
Sick, a solo performance written and performed by Elizabeth and collaboratively created with New City Theater Artistic Director John Kazanjian, premiered at New City Theater in 2011. Sick explores a patient’s two-year odyssey inside the most advanced healthcare system in the world—an odyssey that almost killed her. It investigates how treatment by well-meaning, sophisticated practitioners for a common gynecological issue plunged her into a downward spiral through the complex medical and mental health establishments. It examines the ways that the intricate threads woven between healthcare providers, pharmaceutical makers, insurance companies, and medical educators unknowingly conspire to undermine patient care. Sick is the story of everyone trying hard to get it right…but getting it wrong anyway.
“It didn’t have to happen this way!” By God’s grace, Elizabeth survived the resurrection from “schizophrenia” to normal health intact. Her one-woman play, excerpted here as a 15 minute Ted-Med Talk, offers an inspiring–but also frightening, exasperating, and infuriating–account of how badly wrong things in psychiatry can sometimes go. Elizabeth’s deeply moving story is a cautionary tale for all families navigating the maelstrom of mental illness–and all in the field of psychiatry–and everyone else.
Visit Elizabeth Kenny’s website here.