Patients and psychiatrists alike have their problems in Dave Rabe’s play “Good for Otto,” being presented by The New Group, with direction by Scott Elliott. The nearly three-hour drama, inspired by Richard O’Connor’s book “Undoing Depression,” is a wide-ranging exploration of mental problems with an excellent cast in a psychiatric facility setting.
The stage is lined with chairs in the back and on the sides, with major and minor players stepping forward to enact the roles of various characters, and some occupants apparently just seated as fill-ins. At the outset we meet Ed Harris as Dr. Michaels, who speaks to the audience with a lengthy reference to his life and the loss he has suffered. His mother committed suicide when he was a boy.
Here the Rabe play introduces free-form, as the mother, played by Charlotte Hope, materializes to haunt Michaels, and we quickly understand the demons that plague him even as he proceeds to help his assorted patients. Harris, always a fine actor, is excellent here as a dominating force in Rabe’s unusual drama.
Amy Madigan plays Evangeline Ryder, who also has the task of trying to help her patients as we are induced to ponder her life as well. Madigan, too, is effective in illuminating the concerns the playwright raises.
Among those who come forward to reveal themselves is F. Murray Abraham. as Barnard, who is 77 years old, doesn’t like to get out of bed and is resentful of having to undergo therapy. Rabe gives him colorful lines and he is commanding when he ventures into a long speech.
Much is made of the plight of the 12-year-old Frannie, movingly portrayed by Rileigh McDonald, who is in foster care and increasingly troubled. There is the problem of getting insurance to pay for her treatment, which opens another avenue in the drama. One patient is Mark Linn-Baker as Timothy, who has an ailing hamster named Otto to worry about (that gives the play its title).
The characters are fleshed out in a succession of therapy sessions conducted center-stage, and taken together, the sweep of dealing with the various problems adds up to a play deeply concerned with mental health. It is to Rabe’s credit that he manages to cover so much territory, and it is to director Elliott’s credit that the various threads are illuminated clearly as they are woven into the play’s overall psychiatric portrait. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed March 9, 2018.