Have you ever met a pimp? Or talked to a 19-year-old prostitute? Or tried to avoid your menopausal boss who keeps screaming for the stapler you know you didn’t take? For most people, the answer would be no. But for Helena D. Lewis, she has met these people and many more unique individuals.Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker is a brilliantly written play, filled with poetry that makes you wonder, “did this really happen?” In her autobiographical one-woman play, Lewis recounts her interactions with 25 people in order to understand how she slowly lost her mind and why she became just as crazy as everyone else.
With clear transitions between the scenes and distinguishable characters, Lewis did a beautiful job at constructing a play that is easy to follow and understand. While some character portrayals make the audience erupt in laughter, others make you question whether you should be laughing at these very off putting (and sometimes borderline offensive) impersonations. However, it is through the harsh realities that she forces us to face that we finally see that change cannot be made without someone as dedicated as Lewis.
This plays relies heavily on the audience’s ability to use their imagination. When walking into the space, one must be prepared to see a mostly empty stage. The venue, Nuyorican Poets Café, provides Call Me Crazy a very intimate environment allowing the audience and Lewis to feed off each others' energy. Lewis uses the two long black flats on stage left and right to indicate a different location or character change. The only other set piece is a folding chair located in the center of the stage. In addition, Lewis only used roughly seven props that are easily stored in a pocket or hidden onstage. The very minimalistic set and props help keep the focus on Lewis and her powerful dialogue.
The less smooth transitions occur during the costume changes and lighting transitions. Although she does not change her costume for each character, the few costume changes that occur are a bit awkward. However, this is to be expected when one woman is playing all the characters and has only a matter of seconds to put on/take off a jacket or shirt.
The lighting is predictable and did not have much of a design concept. It seemed as if the lights were used to add light to the stage rather than add depth to the design. Overall, the lighting was a very simple design — the lights changed color to imply a change in the mood or changed direction to prompt the audience where to look on the stage.
However, the minimalistic design concepts are often overshadowed by Lewis’s performance. If you are looking for a funny and motivational show, Call Me Crazy is the show for you. Within five minutes, you will be hooked on Lewis’s story of how she strove to change the world for the people who are often ignored in our society. And by the end, you will finally figure out why this woman has sacrificed her sanity in order to be a true agent of change.
Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker runs until July 27 at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café (236 East 3rd Street between Avenues B and C in the East Village). Daily performances are held at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15. For tickets and further information, visit www.nuyorican.org.