’27 Tips’ Takes Darkly Comic Look at Self Help Industry (4 Stars)

27 Tips for Banishing the Blues’ – Written by Charlotte Meehan; Directed by Kenneth Prestininzi; Scenic and projection design by Seaghan McKay. Presented by Sleeping Weazel At the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston through September 13th.

Considering that we live in a society that demands quick solutions to complex problems that can be solved with a pill, a new diet or a 30 minute “Insanity” workout program, it’s a wonder that there aren’t more works like ’27 Tips’, either on stage or in other media, giving the frauds their just desserts. Billed as “a multimedia tragi-parody of America’s happiness industry,” this dark and funny production takes a look at the flooded self-help market offered via books and television that offer the promise of a changed life with no pain or effort on the part of the person seeking (literally) miraculous improvements. Many of the solutions presented by the charlatan characters in this production – from a Dr. Phil-style celebrity therapist to an astrologer, nutritionist, and even a celebrity chef – are absurd but are only mild exaggerations of what we see advertised as quick cures in today’s woeful media.

And while the show I attended didn’t have the audience in fits of uproarious laughter (although there were a few hilarious scenes) there were a lot of knowing nods of the head – the hallmark of a well-developed dark comedy. The show opens with the central character named Mommy (the very convincing Veronica Wiseman) lying in her bed, lost in the throes of her deep depression. Wiseman conveys the restless desperation of the illness beautifully, and anyone who’s suffered a bout of this condition will recognize the feelings of hopelessness that separate the disorder from simple sadness. She and the other characters suffering from the malady buy into the snake oil remedies with varying degrees of fervor, and the play focuses not on these poor souls but on those that seek to convert their misery into cash and fame.

The Dr. Phil character is mined for the most laughs, as he shamelessly exploits a young married Hispanic couple with a “sick” secret. But the tables are turned when we get a look into the issues that the celebrity therapist is undergoing in his own life. The same is true for the astrologer and the celebrity chef, who were formerly married and are contemplating a reunion – not for love, but instead to pump up interest in their careers. The chef, who was once an astrologer himself, has one of the best lines in the show when he explains why he left his former profession. “I couldn’t get the planets to stop talking to me.” Physician – heal thyself, indeed.

This show is not all played for laughs however. We get a good look at the mind numbing effects of depression through Wiseman’s terrific performance, and also get a glimpse into the impact on children growing up with mental illness in a parent. There are very strong performances from the entire cast which plays multiple roles, with some of the actors seen strictly via one of the three video screens (thus the multi-media experience). If you’re a fan of dark comedy, or want to see a well-deserved skewering of the self-help gurus polluting the airwaves, check out this show. For more info, go to: http://www.sleepingweazel.com/