The Mad Ones: The Show That Contemplates Life
“If we’re gonna go, we gotta go tonight.” At some point in a person’s life, there is a sense of feeling lost, this sense of wonder, this sense of feeling lost and struggling to find yourself in the sea of people. This sense that the only thing for you to do is just pick up and drive anywhere but here in order to become your true self.
The Mad Ones, the new production from famed Broadway writing duo Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk, focuses on this very subject. The plot in short: Samantha “Sam” Brown (played by Krystina Alabado), a recent high school graduate, debates her life choices. Her mom (Leah Hocking) expects her to do one thing. Her best friend (Emma Hunton) pushes her to do the opposite. And all her boyfriend (Jay Armstrong Johnson) wants to do is love her… while eating tacos. Sam faces the ultimate decision on whether to follow societal norms and go off to college or go on a road trip and find herself.
The show, with clear references to famed Beatnik writer Jack Kerouac (a personal literary hero of mine), gives the audience an understanding that these feelings are normal, no matter how old you are. You could be a teenager living with an obscene amount of angst, trying to break out and be free from your past. You could be a sixty-year-old man, who has lived a fulfilling life, but somehow feeling stuck in the same humdrum routine. Or you could be someone like me -- a 22-year-old soon-to-be college graduate who wakes up from nightmares multiple times a night, afraid of what the future holds for her. There’s something to be said about taking those feelings and acting upon them. There’s something amazing about wanting to be wild and free. Kerouac says it himself in On the Road, a quote mentioned in this production: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.” There is more to this quote… but you get the point.
The show lets you question all the bumps in the road of your life and leaves you to wonder whether those choices have been the right ones for you. But that doesn’t mean this production didn’t come with its own humps and mad moments. When Broadway star Ben Fankhauser (known for his portrayal as Davey in the Broadway hit Newsies) had to unexpectedly go on vocal rest on the first day of tech, the production almost shut down, until Jay Armstrong Johnson (known for the recent revival of On the Town) graciously stepped in and learned the entire part in 48 hours. The show almost didn’t make it to its home of Theater A at the 59E59 Theaters without a fundraising campaign organized by the production company, Prospect Theater Company. The production itself is a reworking of a cult classic by Kerrigan and Lowdermilk called The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown, but with no sight on whether it would do well. It has, however, and it’s here for the world to question life choices.
Even the management that oversees the show has had their own mad moments and relations to the show’s seemingly hidden message. “This show really resonates with me,” Hillel Friedman, the general manager of the show (and a high school friend of mine), tells me as we sit down in the darkening theater after a recent performance. Growing up with dreams of becoming a doctor, he’s had his own change of heart over the past few years, but not without stumbles. “Theater is certainly not a very lucrative industry for most people. It’s also very unstable unless you’re in an institutional job.” Despite the challenges, he’s attempting to find himself in the process. “I figure that I’d done most of my pre-med classes and I thought to myself, ‘if there is a time to do what you’re passionate about in life, it’s now.’”
Despite all the unclear moments for him, Friedman’s attitude towards life echoes the sentiment of the show as a whole. “One of the last lines Sam says is, ‘can you just live in a moment where you don’t know what the next thing is?’ Because I wanted to be a doctor for so long, I always thought I knew what the next thing was.” He stares at the stage before continuing. “The steps to succeeding in theater are extremely unclear, a lot of them involving luck and good fortune and being in the right place at the right time. I’m really trying to live in this moment, where I’m so excited to be doing what I really love, while trying to quell some of the more anxious thoughts.”
Now onto the logistics: did the show have an elaborate set? Not particularly -- in fact, it was pretty barebones, a common theme in theater today. Was the acting the best I've ever seen? Not really, although each actor in the show can belt a song like there is no tomorrow. Was the music great? Yes -- some of it is actually stuck in my head as I pen this. Was it the best production I've ever seen? No, but the show made me feel emotions that I didn't want to bring up, ones that I thought I had buried long ago. It made me confused. It made me want to see what Sam’s final decision was going to be. What it did was let me realize that being “mad” isn't so bad. It shockingly means that I am normal. It made me question my own choices and somehow find faith in whatever my next step will be.
Go run away with the show before it closes on December 17th. It’s a worthwhile introspection of life and it will leave you moved -- guaranteed.
THE MAD ONES is currently playing in Theater A at the 59E59 Theaters until December 17th. For more information, click here: http://www.prospecttheater.org/the-mad-ones.