Some performances are harder to watch than others. You’d think a one-woman show about postpartum psychosis would be among that group, right up there with movies about Alzheimer’s patients, over-earnest after-school specials and cautionary tales about catastrophic historic events. You’d be well within reason to presume Melissa Bangs’ Playing Monopoly with God & Other True Stories, a first-person account of how a new mother ends up in a psych ward and ripped away from her perfect newborn daughter, fits snugly into the downtrodden category.
Except it doesn’t. Not even close.
Bangs returns tonight and throughout the weekend with an encore presentation at the Crystal Theatre. In anticipation of the show, here are five reasons Playing Monopoly defies those expectations.
1. The Shimmy.
Bangs’ bold show may involve some brutally honest confessions and cover a serious issue, but there’s a spirit at its heart that wants to make you laugh, give you hope and offer strength. It’s a show that requires Bangs to be part advocate, part educator, part stand-up comic, and she’s delightfully skilled at the latter with a mix of self-deprecation, expert timing and moxie. At one moment, she’s riffing on her ridiculous train of thought during childbirth. At another, she’s pausing to show off her divine black outfit with a twirl and shimmy. Bangs is a natural performer who smartly realizes her message will go nowhere without some level of entertainment. During her opening weekend, she had the crowd I sat with in the palm of her hand.
You’re going to hear about her vagina. And nipple stimulation. And orgasmic birth. And you’re probably going to laugh.
There’s no way to tackle this topic without getting real. Like, really real. In Bangs’ case, that means discussing a chaotic and challenging time that can’t be easy to reveal and, frankly, is not always easy to hear. But Bangs faces it all head-on, addressing every aspect of her experience in a way that provides both a complete picture and multiple points of entry to relate. My favorite moment came when she admitted that, in effect, her show would never end. She’s still in recovery. She—and this show—is still a work in progress. There is no tidy story arc here.
The fact that this is still a work in progress allows for further development, and that can be a good thing when it comes to the show’s production. The woman I was sitting next to during the first weekend’s run complained about the fact it included an intermission. With such an intimate show, about such often difficult subject matter, why allow the audience to disconnect? Playing Monopoly could be that much more powerful without a chance to check one’s cellphone or grab a beer. Perhaps it’s for this reason that the second half didn’t have quite the same snap and pace as the first. Bangs also struggled with the burden of substantial support, both with a boisterous crowd and financial sponsors. The show’s end seemed more concerned with thanking the latter rather than letting the former celebrate her performance. It’ll be interesting to see if these things change this weekend and in future runs.
This show has already accomplished so much. Over the last two years, Bangs has publicly discussed her ordeal in a way that’s informed, inspired and empowered other mothers. She’s not only worked her way back from the psych ward and into the arms of her still-perfect daughter, but found a way to make it relevant and important to others. After its second run this weekend at the Crystal, Playing Monopoly with God is scheduled to be performed in theaters around the state and, potentially, beyond. Bangs may still be crafting her story, and this performance, but it’s already proven a success.
Playing Monopoly with God & Other True Stories returns to the Crystal Theatre Thu., May 28 - Sun., May 31. Cash bar opens at 6 p.m. Show at 7. $15/$12 advance.