The basement of the Blue Man is a cosy Aladdin’s cave of a space, all cushions and tapestries and tasteful lighting. As the show began I was concerned that the burbling from the upstairs bar would prove distracting, but overall the venue felt like a comforting, homely space - apt for a show about finding solace in the face of debilitating anxiety.
It is refreshing to see a show dealing with a serious topic that equally does not take itself too seriously
The MorbidAbormalMe of the title is Shea, who is aided in this autobiographical performance by her best friend, Nora, both of them resplendent in matching red onesies. Despite graduating from the same Canadian drama school, they only became friends when they both moved to France to continue their theatre studies. (They don’t mention it in the show, but the locale was the prestigious École Philippe Gaulier.)
Ever since she can remember, Shea has suffered from a preoccupation with her own mortality. Death is latent in every thunderstorm, every dog’s bark, every anticipated beat of her heart. This is what anxiety does; it takes quotidian fears and magnifies them until they loom unmanageably large.“Mental illness,” comments Nora, gazing fondly at her friend supine on the floor, “We all have our experiences of it”.
That mental health struggles are universal is undoubtedly true – and commendable to acknowledge - yet this is resolutely Shea’s story. What is the origin of her persistent fear of death? How has her anxiety affected her life? And how can those who love her offer support, while remaining unaffected themselves? These are the questions this show attempts to answer, as Shea re-enacts the most anxious moments of her childhood, with Nora alternately assuming the role of doctor, parent, or friend. Throughout, we hear recorded snippets of Shea’s real-life parents, boyfriend, and sister – a theatrical device which serves to broaden the scope of the show beyond these two (very talented) performers. However, MorbidAbnormalMe is often most powerful when words fall away and the pair move to music, their fluid, playful gestures and poses testifying to their alma mater.
It is refreshing to see a show dealing with a serious topic that equally does not take itself too seriously. Both Shea and Nora are very personable performers, and goofy props – a snorkel, leaves, those scarlet onesies –lighten the atmosphere. The ending, when it comes, is surprising, apt and very touching. I came away thinking more about friendship and the delights of connection than I did about the prospect of my own death. And the noise from upstairs? Not an issue. As with anxiety itself, good company was enough to temporarily tune it out.