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Syndrome

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

There's something cathartic about seeing someone on a stage, expressing their innermost thoughts and desires with wanton abandon. The sense of immediacy this creates is what truly sets theatre apart from any other medium.

It is a rare occasion when this is as brazenly present as it is in the case of Joshua Lewis Berg. For over 90 minutes, regardless of what he does or says, it's not really possible to look away; you may be made uncommonly uncomfortable by the fits and starts than emanate from his body and his voice, but just try to let your attention drift. It's almost impossible.

That Mr. Berg is the only actor on the stage at the Greenwich Street Theatre is beside the point; that the play he's performing, Syndrome, is partially the story of his life matters little more. What does matter, for better or worse, is the way in which Mr. Berg draws your attention.

Berg, like the character he plays, Egon Covert, has Tourette Syndrome, and he displays the physical and verbal tics that have come to be associated with it. Watching him deal with it while portraying a character who must also deal with it is the double-layered drama on which Syndrome thrives. Of what you're seeing, how much of it comes from the character, and how much of it comes from the actor portraying him?

As such, Syndrome doesn't need much of a story and, in fact, doesn't have much of one. In Kirk Wood Bromley's script, Egon is supposedly fretting about meeting his parents for dinner (he has a very strained relationship with his father due, in part, to Tourette), but that situation is dealt with in fits and starts at most. It serves as little more than a springboard for a series of tenuously connected monologues to explain himself to the audience. Syndrome works best when it sticks to this stream of consciousness style; the script and the director (Rob Urbinati) make sure Berg and Egon (by extension) are compelling enough on their own.

The show is less secure in other areas. Having Egon's Tourette Syndrome itself appear as a character (named, of course, Syndrome) is an interesting idea, and his libido (named here Bayou Jones) is less so, but these concepts aren't executed as well. There's an all too predictable confrontation scene between Egon and each of these other characters, for example, but a sufficient dramatic reasoning for them existing as wholly separate entities from Egon is never made clear.

Bromley needn't have even bothered, as Berg is compelling enough on his own. The scenes with Syndrome and Bayou Jones are the most written and dramatically phony in the show; Syndrome is strongest when it deals with Egon and Berg working feverishly at dealing with the issues they simply can't hide from the world.

The play as a whole might be flawed, but Berg onstage, alone, laying bare his problems for the world to see, is worth the price of admission. In that way, at least, Syndrome is theatre at its best.

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Syndrome
Greenwich Street Theatre
547 Greenwich Street
Tickets: (212) 255-3940
Through February 9
Running time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission