There is a thin line between madness and sanity, and who is to define which side of it any of us are on? Blue/Orange is an excellent and humourous exposition of this diaphanous dichotomy, of power and self-interest, of the bureaucratic regulation of human caring, and of the fact that not all doctors are saints. Meanwhile it is tinged with overtones of race, political correctness, and value dilemmas, and echoes of the Cuckoo’s Nest.
It is a fine play, with nicely wrought ebb and flow of tension and power balance, and this production directed by Adam Cook does it proud with some excellent acting from its three protagonists, in a convincing set by Victoria Lamb.
Bruce Flaherty (Renato Musolino) is a young, idealistic, passionate trainee psychiatrist with immovable commitment to his tunnel-visioned diagnosis of his patient. Christopher (Robert Jordan) is due to be released from the mental hospital the next day, having been detained for lewd public behaviour (with an orange), and whose diagnosis is in contention. Robert Smith (William Zappa) is the “senior, senior” consultant, pragmatic yet pompous, who disagrees with the junior doctor, and ruthlessly wields his power for his own aggrandisement.
All three are convincing and impressive actors, revealing their characters in almost tangible reality. But the laurel must go to Robert Jordan for his superb portrayal of a troubled, often sane, often mad victim of society, of psychiatry, of family and of race. His beautifully loose and supple movement, characterisation and quick repartee engender sympathy, understanding and question all at once.
The psychiatric (and perhaps all the medical) profession does not come off well in this play. This may be stimulated by a personal vendetta of the playwright, who grew up in the vicinity of Adelaide’s renowned “looney bin”, discovered disillusionment with doctors and other professionals, is angered by self interest at the expense of the helpless, and clearly sees the need for real asylum for victims of society. But his elucidation of the clash of realities of these three protagonists raises all sorts of questions, not only about the differential diagnosis of schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder, but also about human decency, cooperation, compassion, and self determination.
Whatever the diagnosis, there is clearly a little madness in the patient. There is certainly a bit in the doctors, and there is plainly a lot in society. As Dr Smith points out, humans are “the only beings with the right to be insane”. And at the end of the play, one is left with the feeling that the world is nuts, and so perhaps oranges might be blue.
State Theatre Company of South Australia presents
By Joe Penhall
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: 4 - 26 July 2008