Down at the New Ohio Theatre on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, there is an odd, interesting play by the talented Built for Collapse company called “Danger Signals,” ostensibly about time, anxiety and lobotomies. A collaborative theatrical event with text by Nina Segal, composition by Jen Goma, choreography by Ben Hobbs, set and video design by Dave Tennent, lighting design by Joe Cantalupo, and directed by Sanaz Ghajar, “Danger Signals” is visually arresting and boasts three terrific performances. It disturbs, but not enough; probes, but not as deeply as it should.
Jessica Almasy is about to give a lecture on the brain, specifically about lobotomies, to an auditorium full of people but is paralyzed by anxiety. Her dance/movement counterpart, the wonderful Eva Jaunzemis, tribal, other-worldly, mimics her and serves as a time-traveling narrator. Robert M. Johanson, stepping in for “All White Men who have trampled on others in the name of Progress,” is appropriately arrogant and extremely funny.
Almasy has the largest part but also the least to do, which is unfortunate. I wish her character had been better written. I understand why she stood in front of us inert, counting out beats, but found this ineffective. It didn’t make the audience uncomfortable enough. And while it is clever to have her and Jaunzemis morph into Lucy and Becky, and while it is disturbing for neurophysiologist John Fulton to have done experiments on chimps, it is perhaps even more disturbing for neurologist Walter Freeman, the “Father of the Lobotomy” to have traversed mental hospitals throughout the United States, experimenting on patients without a surgeon, including 228 lobotomies in a two-week period for a West Virginia state-sponsored lobotomy project, referred to by the press as “Operation Ice Pick.”
That I find deeply disturbing. Like the poor chimps, these people had no choice in the matter of what was done to them or their brains. Most often, the patients were women.
The surgeons were always men. “Danger Signals” could have mined more of this for a sense of immediacy, of sexism, control, hubris. For a contrast between then and now. Today, to treat anxiety and mental disorders, we have swerved to many expensive doctors prescribing many expensive pills. We have come a long way, haven’t we?