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Theatre Review: MadLab’s Devastating and Hopeful Fine Not Fine

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theatre Review: MadLab’s Devastating and Hopeful Fine Not FineKate Jones in "Fine (Not Fine)" a MadLab Theatre production. Photo Credit: Steve Malone Photography
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Anyone who’s read more than two my reviews can map out my pet peeves: insufficiently dramatized; too literal; monochromatic. A new work checks off every box I’ve deducted points from other pieces for and stands as one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on a stage all year: MadLab’s Fine Not Fine.

Fine Not Fine, assembled and directed by Andy Batt (with Amanda Bauer as Assistant Director), from friends and collaborators’ testimonials, shines bright, focused lights on living with mental illness. This montage of monologues hollowed me out, shook me, and sent me staggering out to the street. It takes well-trod material and spins it into razor-edged reminders to never take a person’s story for granted.

Linda O’Donnell with l-r, Hannah Portmann in “Fine (Not Fine)” a MadLab Theatre production. Photo Credit: Steve Malone Photography

The sure hand of Batt’s theatre artistry comes in using just enough physicality. Fine Not Fine amplifies, but also leavens, the crushing isolation of not trusting your own brain – or trusting it as it drives you away from other people who care through sequences where multiple actors rise together in surprising harmonies and choruses. Their diamond-hard attention to detail makes Kate Jones’ walking toward the audience as immediate and shocking as gripping each one of us by the lapels.

A brave choice – among many – made here struck and haunted me: some stories arrive with full names attached. If you’ve been around Columbus’ art scene for any length of time, you’ll hear a piece of the story of someone you know. That powerful identification sets up a space where the audience can’t easily distance themselves from the pain elucidated on stage.

Fine Not Fine lives and dies by its actors’ ability to suddenly enter a story long enough to imply a rich life around that pinhole-light then shift to another life. All 14 cast members rise to that challenge and soar within that air, welding the personal and universal together.

Jennifer Barlup, with l-r, Nikki Smith in “Fine (Not Fine)” a MadLab Theatre production. Photo Credit: Steve Malone Photography

Within this uniformly good work, some actors stood out: Casey May brought a subtle, delicate language to vital utility work as a foil for more demonstrative actors. Jeff Potts drew gasps from my Thursday night audience with a vibrating intensity that made it hard to turn away. The powerful fragility of Skyler McNeely. A devastating mother-daughter duet from Hannah Portmann and Linda O’Donnell. Any time Traci Weaver appears on stage.

At its core, Fine Not Fine, grapples with the most basic question of humanity: why do we keep living? What makes us want to keep living? It finds a magical strength in the lack of easy answers and in the absence of a magic bullet; in the very difficulty of the road ahead of us all. And it reminds us we don’t have to be alone in that struggle.

Fine Not Fine runs through September 7 with performances at 8:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For tickets and more info, visit madlab.net.

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