Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
And with that, Adam Strauss proceeds to tell us how to take eleven feet of cactus ("nature's middle finger"), strip it, chop it, puree it, and cook it down overnight to produce a sickly looking, green concoction that is supposed to send him toward 4-Plus Enlightenmentand a cure for his OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). This attempt to cure his years-long struggle against a condition literally bringing his life to a standstill as he tries to make simple, everyday decisions comes after futile stabs at yoga, meditation, acupuncture, many failed drug treatments, and sitting in a "circle of stackable, plastic chairs" in the The Serenity Program.
But we find out in his one-person tour de force now showing at The Marsh (created by Strauss and directed by Jonathan Libman), but for a strange, unexplainable, on-the-street drought of 'shrooms in New York City, what Adam would be rather be pursuing is The Mushroom Cure.
With deep-set eyes whose almost-hidden pupils still find ways to gleam intensely toward some distant horizon, Adam Strauss captivates his audience with not just his ability to be a master storyteller, but to become a live replay of his own OCD attacks. The frenetic, back-and-forth arguments he has with himself are soon like watching a two-headed monster in full-on battle with itself. His stuck-in-time tirades on what shirt to wear to his job as a stand-up comedian (there's a stain on this one, the collar's not right on that one, no the first one is OK); what side of 8th Avenue to take to get there (shady, sunny ... protect from cancer rays, get necessary Vitamin D); or what house to rent in Martha's Vineyard in order to take his cactus-induced trip (too little, too big, too ...) are some strange mixture of enchanting, electrifying, and exhausting to watch (not to mention frightening).
But in between these episodes, we also get to see a man who is so full of life, whose personality is immediately likeable, and who is in fact (which is good for a stand-up comedian) really funny. Through him, we meet folks who traverse with himboth intimately and tangentiallyin this journey towards his sought-cure. There is Slo, his drug dealer of choice who speaks in the same speed of his name and who is white and "does a bad stereotype of a black guy." Dr. Wilson, his twice-a-week therapist who keeps repeating "Accept the anxiety" as the sure-cure, is himself PTSD-suffering, with it becoming increasingly tough to ascertain who is doctor to whom as the two meet in Wilson's "office," sitting on the ground in a city park.
And then there is soft-spoken Grace, a psychology grad student from Kansas ("a farm girl" with "an iPod voice" and sometimes with "barnyard thoughts" when it comes to sex) who captures Adam's heart and joins him (at least for part of the trip) as he heads down the road to nirvana through cactus plants, powders from China, and finally, mushrooms shaped like shriveled penises. When he speaks of and for Grace, Adam's entire being melts just a bit; and in his eyes and his voice we know that somewhere deep down inside, she is still with him on the stage tonight.
Through Adam, we get to know each of these people as distinct personalities, enthralled to watch his interactions with them and to see how they each play into and shape this story.
Adam Strauss is deliciously meticulous in detailing descriptions as he unravels his ninety-minute story. His entire being joins in an orchestration of full-body moves and efforts to articulate the joys, pains, frustrations and insights he experiences along the way. At the same time, often he is simply looking intently straight ahead at some unknown target as he relates his often heartrending memoir.
Several glasses partly filled with water serve as needed refreshment and occasional props on the simple, two-drawer table that hides away a few more items to be pulled out for story enhancement. The lighting choices and timing of Aaron Aguilar are superbly made to help the storyteller shift moods, build toward climaxes, and ease into needed pauses for everyoneAdam and usto catch their breath.
There is no way anyone can walk out of The Mushroom Cure without a greater understanding of OCD and a never-to-be-forgotten empathy for its sufferers. But everyone should also leave feeling uplifted by the true story of how this man, this comedian, and now even this new friend of ours has found in the end maybe not the cure, but certainly a way to manage, to survive, and yes, to thrive.
With Adam Strauss and The Mushroom Cure, the Marsh has once again produced a miracle of a show and one that is a must-see.
The Mushroom Cure continues through June 3, 2017, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. at The Marsh, San Francisco, 1062 Valencia Street. Tickets are available online at themarsh.org.