Arts & Culture

‘Songs I Stole From Anya’ evocatively depicts manic depression    

New PW production directed by Iris Cronin ’19 explores loss, mental illness, relationships

senior staff writer
Saturday, April 8, 2017

Affecting and all too real, Production Workshop’s “Songs I Stole From Anya” movingly captures tumultuous relationships, mental illness and death itself through its depiction of a manically depressed teenage girl. The play, written and directed by Iris Cronin ’19, runs from April 7 to 10 in the PW downspace.

Mercurial and iconoclastic, the eponymous character of Anya deals with more than the mood swings and malaise typical of adolescence. She suffers from bipolar disorder, and her capricious episodes oscillate between manic highs and depressive lows, lending credence to her anguish in an exceptionally believable representation of mental illness. Fearful of being a liability, Anya seeks to correct her life as “some indecipherable human typo” with the drug lithium.

Actress Carrie Adams ’17 portrays Anya — a difficult role she deftly performs, carrying Anya’s alternations between elation and depression with remarkable capability. “It was nerve-wracking to me to make sure I was doing it justice,” Adams said. “To just make sure that was I depicting a human being – Anya is not bipolar; she just has bipolar.”

While not autobiographical, the play aims to encapsulate Cronin’s own high school experiences with friendships and relationships as someone suffering from mental illness.

“I first started writing it in the fall of my junior year of high school,” Cronin said. “Writing it, I was able to come to terms with a lot of stuff I was struggling with. It was an emotionally, very affecting experience.”

Conversations between Anya’s friends Chloe and Nicolas constitute the play’s solemn center. Convened in a park on the one year anniversary of Anya’s suicide, the two start off the play in a match of chess that soon turns into an emotionally-charged volley of meditations on their friend. Playful references to French literature, vocal jazz and pot-smoking abound, but such levity is rare. Chloe, a veritable force of personality and Anya’s best friend, reflects on her friend’s predilection toward “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and Russian curse words, all while recounting some of the insecurities she encountered in her friendship with Anya at the Catholic girls’ school they attended. Nicolas, a wry pianist and Anya’s ex-boyfriend, laments over his reduction of Anya and her mental illness to an idyllic trope: “the manic pixie dream girl with the manic on the side.”

The conversations between the two remind us that the trauma of suicide is a two-way mirror which scars the victim and loved ones alike — despair set straight only by moments of communality. Through their expressions of grief and exchanges of humanity, Chloe and Nicolas approach a sense of catharsis. Each friend projects anxiety and mourning on the other, causing the play to end up being almost just as much about them and their mechanism of coping as it is about Anya.

The pair’s praise-worthy rapport is a product of the chemistry shared by actors Erin Malimban ’19 and Ken Lumb ’19. Cronin deliberately talked to every actor that auditioned about the play’s material, filtering for those who connected with it most. In drawing on Adams, Malimban and Lum’s affinity, Cronin effectively curates the perfect cast for the character-driven production.

“(We) were on the same page for the entire process, which just helped,” Lumb said.