At just before 7 PM on Saturday evening, a friend and I arrived at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café. We were left in no doubt that we’d reached the right place: a huge mural of a man’s face before a microphone stretches across the façade. We bought tickets at the door and hurried into the café, wanting to get seats before the lights dimmed and “Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker,” the one woman play that we’d come to watch, began. The room, with its bare-brick walls and simple black stage, was buzzing with energy—the audience was excited, and they showed it. As we sat down, a suit-clad man stood up and stepped up to the stage to introduce the show. The lights dimmed, and the play began.
To say that Helynna D. Lewis, social worker, is stressed wouldn’t cover the half of it. Within 5 minutes of the play’s opening she has already had a nervous breakdown, tried to kill her boss, and been committed for psychiatric observation. But her boss totally deserved it, since she was trying to add another caseload to Lewis’ already crushing workload, right?
As Lewis embarks on the road to recovery, she recalls her experiences working with prostitutes, addicts, and prisoners, and shares the searing sadness of her own personal loss. But don’t let the grim subject matter put you off—Lewis is hilarious. From the moment she steps onstage, her enthusiasm, humor, and energy are captivating, and she encourages, no, demands audience participation. Over the course of her autobiographical play, Lewis portrays 25 different characters, and she pulls each one off perfectly, alternately inspiring laughter and sadness. Her experience with poetry makes its way in as well; I was particularly struck by a poem she had written about a prostitute, which portrayed the fear and loss hidden beneath the woman’s tough-girl façade.
I wholeheartedly recommend “Call Me Crazy” to anyone who can make it to the city before the play closes!
“Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker” is running from July 10th to July 27th, 2014 at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café (236 E 3rd St. btwn aves B & C, New York, NY, 10009).
Performances are on Thursdays-Sundays. Doors open at 6:30 PM; Showtime is at 7:00 PM. There will be no show on July 20th and the July 27th show will begin at 4 PM.
Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.
Images courtesy of hdlpoet.com.