The Mushroom Cure
photo by David Allen
The Mushroom Cure is an extended autobiographical monologue - 90 minutes - written and performed by Adam Strauss and directed by Jonathan Libman, currently playing at Theatre 80 St. Mark’s, Off-off-Broadway. It centers on Strauss’ attempts to treat his OCD through psychedelics, and his concurrent romance with a woman named Grace. The two stories are intertwined as Strauss explores psychedelics and the personal relationship. He meets Grace when he’s researching drugs, and she accompanies him to Martha’s Vineyard to take the magic mushrooms.
Libman understands the particular challenges of a solo show, and he deals with them with intelligence and precision. The performance has a nice variety, with clear differentiation between intimacy and humor, and there’s a living rhythm to the whole thing.
Strauss, who’s very talented, is at his best when expressing - and reliving - the experience of making a decision in the presence of OCD. He bounces violently between the one choice and the other. His work overall is meticulous and polished. He has varied and expressive vocal and physical lives, a committed moment-to-moment stage life and a commanding presence.
But there are a few problems here. The first concerns the script. It spends far too much time on a routine love story and not enough on Strauss’ hallucinogenic experiments.
The other problems concern the performance. The first is conceptual. Strauss usually relates the story without irony, without commenting on it in his acting. A script is animated by the tension between the words and the acting, and this show often lacks that tension.
And Strauss has technical problems with delivery. He doesn’t place characters in conversation - that is, he doesn’t look to his right when he’s speaking the words of one character and to his left when he’s speaking the words of the other. Worse, he almost ever makes eye contact with us when he’s talking to us; he looks over our heads.
The Mushroom Cure is appreciated, and it’s been well received. Still, the solo show is a challenging form that the production hasn’t entirely mastered.