By David Rabe; Directed by Scott Elliott
Produced by The New Group
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 4.15.18
The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 3.20.18
Ed Harris and Rileigh McDonald in Good for Otto. Photo by Monique Carboni.
BOTTOM LINE: A large, dazzling cast of talented and well-known actors helps to compensate for a bloated script.
With the recent uptick in mass shootings, the flawed state of mental healthcare in America has gained renewed attention, making the Off Broadway premiere of this David Rabe play especially timely. Taking place at a mental health care center in a small Connecticut town “near the Berkshire Mountains,” Good for Otto opens on a stage lined with empty chairs. The actors and some audience members (presumably representing the many patients of the center) march out, taking their seats, some singing softly together. Dr. Robert Michaels (Ed Harris) shares the tale of one of his patients: a mother (Kate Buddeke) who lost her son to suicide when he came home from an unexpected run in with his ex-wife and felt the gun speaking to him. This mother now suffers from debilitating headaches, and Dr. Michaels tries to help her find a way to unload some of her deep emotional pain.
This sets the tone for the sort of everyday, domestic tragedies Michaels’ patients struggle with. His favorite patient, a 12-year-old girl named Frannie (Rileigh McDonald) talks about big storms inside of her that will only quiet when she cuts herself. Although she is now in the care of a foster mother (Rhea Perlman, who filled in for Rosie O’Donnell at the last minute), visits with her deeply troubled biological mother only cause her symptoms to worsen. Michaels’ colleague Evangeline (Amy Madigan) also has her own rotation of patients, including a man in his seventies (F. Murray Abraham) who one day finds himself unable to get out of bed, and a young man (Maulik Pancholy) who is struggling with the realization that he is gay and the delusions that he uses to make himself feel less alone in the world.
While it may seem like Michaels is the steady one who balances all these off-kilter characters, he too is secretly chasing his own demons. He is frequently visited by the rather nasty ghost of his mother (Charlotte Hope) who herself committed suicide and left Michaels to find the body when he was still a young boy, burdening him with insurmountable guilt. Michaels, it seems, devotes his life to saving these patients because he could not save his own mother. Hindering these efforts are the insurance companies who want to restrict costs by limiting the care his patients can receive. When Michaels tries to create a treatment plan for Frannie, he gets pushback from the case manager (Nancy Giles), even when it seems to be a matter of life or death.
Clocking in at three hours, this play is a long one as it attempts to follow the threads of many characters and the intricacies of their disordered thinking. Taking up further stage time are many musical numbers, Michaels' visions of his own patients singing. While these certainly do serve to lighten the looming darkness of the characters' lives, Rabe could have cut a few and devoted more time to his patients finding resolution and hope. The play eschews standard plot structure, and lacks a clear climax. Instead, Dr. Michaels is haunted by the ghost of a mentally ill mother he couldn’t save, while the patients at his center fumble towards some kind of improvement.
As is the case with most New Group productions, Good for Otto's cast includes an impressive number of actors recognizable from television and film, each of whom adds a certain cachet and sense of familiarity to the stage. Under the direction of Scott Elliott, Harris renders his character’s emotional turbulence with a skilled hand, while the young McDonald does her best with an increasingly demanding role that gets louder and more dramatic in each scene. Abraham and Pancholy maximize the comedic elements of their roles, making the darkness of this play more manageable. While Good for Otto gives us no clear resolution or finale, we do come away with Rabe’s message that many of us are suffering in silence from psychic wounds, and only by coming together can we finally find peace.
(Good for Otto plays at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, through April 15, 2018. The running time is 3 hours with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30; Wednesdays at 2 and 7:30; Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $85 - $135 and are available at or by calling 212-279-4200.)
Good for Otto is by David Rabe. Directed by Scott Elliott. Set Design by Derek McLane. Costume Design by Jeff Mahshie. Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter. Sound Design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen.
The cast is F. Murray Abraham, Kate Buddeke, Laura Esterman, Nancy Giles, Lily Gladstone, Ed Harris, Charlotte Hope, Mark Linn-Baker, Amy Madigan, Rileigh McDonald, Kenny Mellman, Rhea Perlman, Maulik Pancholy, and Michael Rabe.