The economy is down in the dumps. Anti-American nuclear super-powers are growing more volatile. Pirates. Plane crashes. Police shootings. All the more reason to seek escape in drugs, booze and pills. So, in honor of denial, artists and sarcastic cheap-thrill seekers everywhere, Williamsburg’s Brick Theater presents the Anti-Depressant Festival.
“With the coming recession we wanted to talk about what’s going on,” said Michael Gardner. “But with a backwards spin, ‘No we’re not depressed, we’re happy. Because of some pills.’ It’s about drugs and therapy, a celebration of quick fixes.”
The month-long festival kicked off Friday with a “Happy Pill Cabaret,” a preview of the Brick’s summer theater festival. Host Dr. Lisa Levy, S. P., (self-proclaimed), the woman behind “Stand up. Lie Down.,” therapy sessions during stand-up comedy shows, sat down with the characters of the Anti-Depressant Festival on her “shrink couch” for “sessions” in between scenes from the upcoming shows. After the cabaret, the ever-cynical Dr. Levy, who happens to be a proponent of anti-depressants, gave out ironic prescriptions to anyone with questionable behavior, which could be redeemed for “happy pills” at Brick’s ticket counter during the “Prescription Pill” Party.
All the shows in the upcoming festival deal with denial and quick fixes. “Your Lithepedion” is about a serial killer married to a woman is in denial about her husband’s true identity. “Big Girls Club” is a demented slumber party, with girls gorging on unhealthy food and fanatically exercising, cruelly taunting each other and participating in sadistic behavior in an effort to become socially accepted “Big Girls.” Clowns play dirty tricks on each other and delight in others’ misery in “Schaden, Freude and You: A 3 Clown Seminar.” “Suspicious Package” presents a future in which everyone is on anti-depressants yet no one is happy. In the isolated kingdom of “How to Fight Depression When You Don’t Know Its Symptoms,” everyone is on Prozak and no one is depressed, until “He,” a mysterious man sporting glittery tights and a cowboy hat, comes into the picture.
The Anti-Depressant Festival, like so many things in Williamsburg, is heavy on irony. Even the festival’s logo bears an ironic version of the happy face, with the mouth straight instead of curved in a smile. The obvious irony of the festival is a clever marketing strategy to attract hipsters.
“That’s our base, who we’re selling to, we want hipster chic, disaffected youth,” said Gardner, who admitted to being an “ironic, pretentious type”—sarcastically, of course.
Gardner said he wants to celebrate drugs and booze and all addictions, but he also wants to say it doesn’t work, that one should be wary of quick fixes. Qualified happiness is not quite real, said Gardner.
Gardner said the inspiration behind the “quick fix” theme of the festival was the country’s celebration of the election of Barack Obama.
“I’m a big fan of Obama, but I do think the country is celebrating a quick fix,” said Gardner. “It’s all better now, we have a smart democratic president. But we’re still in one of the most perilous periods of American history.”
Coincidentally, the festival ends on July 4.
“On the 4th of July, we end this ironic hipsterdom with a true celebration of American values and patriotism,” said Gardner, laughing, since the end-date of the festival was not intentional.
Eduardo Band wrote and directed “How to Fight Depression When You Don’t Even Know its Symptoms,” a play where one of the characters finds a real solution to depression. Although he was attracted to the ironic aspect of the festival, he was being completely sincere when he said, “Everyone talks about layoffs, people losing their jobs, but it really depends on how you handle it. People are totally capable of lifting themselves out of depression.”
“You get to choose if you want to be happy,” he added.