By Ilaria Cutolo

This past Monday, I had the privilege to catch a performance of In My Own Little Corner: My Work In Progress With Bipolar Disorder written and performed by Chryssie Whitehead (A Chorus Line, Chicago, Company, Radio City Rockettes) for one night only at the Abrons Arts Center (a longer run is slated for the fall of 2024). Whitehead gives us an honest and captivating look at mental illness like only a seasoned Broadway performer can by combining music and dance straight from the heart, making this a stellar off-Broadway act. This one-woman show chronicles the very moment Whitehead was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder, revealing the gut-wrenching and unexpected moments that ensue, all while interweaving a powerful story about her late mother and their shared struggles with mental illness. She lightens the weight of a not-so-light topic by tastefully and strategically adding video footage and photos of her early years and glimpses of her behind-the-scenes coming-of-age moments. One such moment is of an ecstatic, teary, young Whitehead on the phone announcing to her mother that she has just landed her Broadway debut as Kristine in A Chorus Line. All in all, I witnessed the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, and messy, disquieting truths of one person’s exploration of what it means to grapple with and ultimately accept a new reality while having to question all that came before.

At the center of this story is the importance of being seen and heard, and for the first time in a very long time, as an audience member, I too felt strangely both seen and heard while equally engaged in another person’s story.  Whitehead speaks with the audience, not at the audience. Sharing a personal journey filled with social stigma is no easy feat, and she does it with a confident vulnerability that pulls you right in. She is not just a delight to watch, she is an energetic ball of pure triple-threat talent, plus an honest-to-goodness human to boot, which radiates out to every corner of the stage and theater.

I would be remiss not to mention that the program, made with much thought and care, highlights the cast and team with pictures and contact information for organizations concerning all things mental health and wellness, a thoughtful bonus.

Furthermore, the set design is simple and sweet: A cozy mid-century chair, a plush rug, a framed picture of Whitehead and her mother, just like being in a corner of her bedroom. Alongside her is the pianist/music director (Nick Wilders)  to the left, and to the far back right is the talented band. She engages naturally with them throughout the show and in just the right amount. Never does the performance feel strained or forced, as I think something like this has the potential to be. This topic is so obviously at the core of her being that she lives and breathes it right onto the stage. There is even a Talk Back at the end with Chryssie Whitehead,  Kristen Wrinkle (Producer), and special guest Dr. Alisa Hurwitz where audience members have an opportunity to ask questions and share their own stories. Folks, this is catharsis to the max. Bring a pack of tissues because you’ll need them. Oh, and bring an open heart too, but not to worry if you don’t, your heart will be gently pried open whether or not you expect it to.

 

Future tour dates for Fall 2024 are TBA. For more information, go to: https://www.imolctheshow.com/.

Featuring: Chryssie Whitehead (Performer); musicians Nick Wilders (piano), Tiffany Weiss (violin), Mackenzie Lesser-Roy (she/her) (cello), Jared Mathis (he/him) (drums) and Rick Snell (guitar).

TEAM: Chryssie Whitehead (Author/Artist/Producer); Kristen Wrinkle (Producer); Anant Das (Executive Producer); Bryon Knowlton (Director/Choreographer); Nick Wilders (Music Director/Orchestration/Arrangements); Ken Cerniglia (Dramaturg); Jmonet Hill (Stage Manager); Paige Seber (Lighting Designer); Erin Spears Ledford (Associate Director); Ari Goldbloom-Helzner (Associate Music Director and Copyist); Lauren Barette (Executive Assistant); Parks Harper (Medicine/Script Consultant); Maggie Siller (Lawyer); Daniel DeMello (Press Representative); INNORPTIV (Marketing); New Stage Theatrical (General Management).