Standing on My Knees, Janus Theatre, at Stage Left Theatre. The years have not been kind to John Olive’s play about a poet with schizophrenia, but flashy monologues and continued prurient interest in mental illness combine to keep it in circulation. Irresistible to overearnest young companies, it’s just the kind of work they should avoid. Though Catherine, the plagued poet, warns her friend, “Don’t romanticize this illness!” the playwright does exactly that, equating insanity with creativity. In fact Olive romanticizes everything: Catherine has no visible means of support and lives in an unheated garret surrounded by music and crumpled paper, swilling expensive wine from the bottle without apparent ill effect though she’s mixing it with Thorazine.
Doubtless the play was equally trivial in its 1981 Chicago premiere at Wisdom Bridge, but I was a lot younger, and Robert Falls’s bravura direction swept everybody and everything along. Sean Patrick Hargadon doesn’t fare as well with his Elgin-based company’s Chicago debut. Ruth Neaveill and Joseph L. Schuman can do nothing with the one-dimensional roles of best friend and psychiatrist, while coproducer Patricia True manages Catherine reasonably well in the first act but collapses into a heap of tics in the second. The production’s saving grace is Chris Agos as Catherine’s overwhelmed lover: fresh and direct, he makes their encounters so charged that we actually care whether their love survives her malady. He even triumphs over lines like “I’ve fallen head over heels in like with you.”