In David Gosz and Leo Fotos’s clinically subtitled new show, Tru: A Musical for Mental Health, an English teacher (Stephen “Blu” Allen) grapples with his codependent relationship to his undiagnosed mental disorder in the most literal, theatrical terms. “Her” (Meredith Kochan), the teacher’s ghostly, emotionally manipulative and physically abusive lover whom only he can hear or see, beckons Truman to lie in bed all day, casts doubt on his impact as an educator, and pushes him toward self-destruction.
Some of the bluntness of Tru‘s premise and scene work is softened a bit by Foto and Gosz’s impactful if not very melodic score, a twinkly adult-contemporary songbook that ranges from coffeehouse folk to showtune-y wake-up numbers to sweeping, lyrical ballads. Beautifully accompanied by a seven-piece onstage band under the music direction of Eric Rehm, Taylor Pasche’s ensemble in Gosz and Fotos’s self-produced show at Stage 773 vocally fills the perhaps larger-than-is-ideal stage, something the most internalized and intimate scenes have trouble doing. Curiously, emotionally climactic moments in bedrooms and attics are almost universally blocked as far upstage away from the audience as possible.
And for a show that aims to destigmatize mental illness, there’s very little frank discussion or even specifics regarding mental wellness (we never learn Truman’s condition or see him seek treatment beyond falling in love), a decision that might keep the discussion universal and in the realm of metaphor but forgoes opportunities to really shed light on the subjects it seeks to illuminate. At two and a half hours plus, Tru has B, C, and D plots in need of plenty of trimming, but Marssie Mencotti shines as a florist who offers lilting musical support and encouragement throughout. v