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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 15
Sick reveals secrets and corruption of Big Pharma
Arts & Entertainment
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Sick reveals secrets and corruption of Big Pharma

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Sick
New City Theater
Through April 30


A young woman reveals, in bits and pieces, a hellish descent into madness, complete with suicidal moments and homicidal moments. She's riveting, occasionally funny, and sweet. She's accompanied by a bell-dinger who stops her story and restarts it with another trigger word. Ultimately, it turns out this whole ordeal was a big mistake by well-meaning doctors!

That's the experience of Sick, written and performed by Elizabeth Kenny at New City Theater. It's a memoir of her experience in being prescribed drugs she didn't need, with extremely toxic side effects. It's a very watchable piece of theater, as she turns her odyssey of three years into a 75-minute performance. If you don't know a lot about Big Pharma, or newish medicines for depression and anxiety, you'll learn a lot. I'd also have happily watched for three hours, if that's what it took to tell her story.

Mostly what you learn is that you have to be responsible for your own body and not give away all your power to doctors who unwittingly are performing experiments on you. Perhaps it's also an indictment of raising women to want to please. Kenny does say, near the beginning, that she's a pleaser. She wants to please the doctors with the 'right' answer, and looked less than critically at what they were prescribing until it became clear that she could really die from their prescriptions, or kill someone else.

You might want to see more than one performance, because the performances, while not quite improvised, are a bit different every night, and parts might be told differently. In fact, you won't get the entire story in one sitting, which might frustrate you. Then, again, the whole story isn't the point.

Tina Kunz Rowley sits at the side and rings a bell in the middle of Kenny's stories, halting them and leading her into another, with a word that prompts another story. It's a verbal dance. On occasion, Kenny disobeys the rules and adds a few sentences, if she thinks something important is getting left out.

Kenny details how she got into this cycle by experiencing ovarian cysts that apparently burst periodically and painfully. Various doctors begin to prescribe strong medicines to her that may or may not help. She began to experience odd side effects, and rather than do the responsible thing (stop prescribing that drug!) the doctor prescribes another drug, as well. We know so little about drug allergies and sensitivities. Those long lists of problems at the end of a commercial (don't take this drug if you are x, or have y, or experience loss of z) mean that bad things could happen to you.

If Kenny had felt empowered to disobey doctors and stop taking medications that clearly produced horrible side effects for her, she might never have had to go through what she ended up enduring. This is not a criticism of Kenny or her choices. Her piece is more an indictment of the medical establishment and the blithe confidence it shows in powerful medications that are prescribed and then combined with others. Then the establishment scratches their heads in bafflement while the patient pays the ultimate price: pain, suffering, induced mental illness (in this case), loss of job, loss of stability, need for care since the patient can no longer care for herself&.

We live in an age of 'miracles and wonders' as Paul Simon wrote some years ago. These drugs have helped millions of people who would have suffered in silence in the past. But we don't know a lot about them, and they work differently on different people, so they should be used with great care and stopped as soon as they don't appear to have the right positive effects.

Yet, Big Pharma convinces doctors (who are as human as any) that the downside is only a 'side effect' and will go away if you just keep taking the medicine. And Big Pharma pays for the scientific studies, and gives monetary incentives to doctors for prescribing.

Kenny's performance reminds us that the doctors' oath to 'do no harm' might be a matter of simply telling someone to lie down for a few days & but it feels so much more medical to prescribe a drug, doesn't it?

For more information, go to http://shadylaneproductions.org/sick/ or www.brownpapertickets.com or call 206-420-8404.

Discuss your opinions at sgncritic@gmail.com.

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