By Jay Menard
The title of Clara Madrenas’ Recovery Show is not so much of a misnomer, as it is a misdirection. The title is intended to be reflexive — representing the shared recovery from mental and physical ailments by Madrenas and her partner. But the truth is that, after leaving the production, it is the audience who is in need of Recovery time following one of the most open, honest, and visceral productions to be mounted on a Fringe stage in years.
During the play, Madrenas talks about how, during a particular stage of psychosis, she felt that the only way she could heal her ailing partner was to grasp a glowing orb that appeared on their bedroom wall, and transfer its energy into her partner by cracking open his chest, exposing his organs, and manipulating them.
That’s an apt metaphor for Recovery Show — as Madrenas metaphorically rips open her being and exposes her soul to the light. She does it not to be judged, but rather to be understood — and to help others understand their experiences. Like the mirror neurons she discusses late in the play, the audience shares the catharsis and empathy to which the story builds.
The production is housed in a small venue, with minimal staging. Madrenas, decked head to toe in black, stands barefoot on an all-white stage. There is a stool in the middle behind a lighting deck, as she subtly controls the lighting as she speaks. On her right is an easel with paper and a black jacket; on her left hangs a white lab coat. The latter two items figure prominently, as Madrenas cleverly uses the persona of an agent and a doctor to foreshadow events by explaining themes. The doctor focuses on the clinical aspects of psychosis. The agent focuses on the power of the brain — explaining how little is actually used, how much potential there is should it be unlocked, and how implementing stressors can help to push those barriers — until they break.
Madrenas candidly shares her history with visions, compulsions, and psychosis. Her story comes to a climax as her partner is hospitalized and at risk of dying, whilst she is obligated to travel to post-genocide Rwanda for research. Her experiences there mesh with her visions and lead to an eventual break. And, ultimately, a recovery for both.
This is not a light-hearted topic, but Madrenas presents in a caring, honest, and genuinely soulful manner. She uses her voice and cadence to great effect — slowly building up to a crescendo and making the impact of her challenges, sorrows, and psychosis all the more poignant in doing so. She adds a dash of humour here and there — after all, the brain can adapt to anything, so by adding sprinklings of lightness throughout, it makes the tension all the more persistent.
Madrenas is exceptionally respectful of the audience. She doesn’t talk down to the crowd. She presents complicated topics directly and with conviction. As her agent states, the presenter respects us, so we are compelled to return that level of respect.
If there is a flaw, it’s the venue. Hacker studios is tight, which is perfect for the nature of Recovery Show, but it’s also not overly soundproof. For a show that’s filled with such raw, naked honesty, the street volume from passers-by only serves to violate the sense of intimacy that this production demands.
This is a show about recovery — and relapse, as she states, is always an option. But no matter what happens, the Recovery Show is a celebration of honesty, truth, and bravery. It’s not an easy show to watch, but it’s a show that demands to be seen.