“Tangents” is a compelling and provocative psychodrama, pairing a spunky college shrink with a troubled student governed by multiple personalities. Playwright Elizabeth Hansen has devised a clever theatrical twist by creating roles for five actresses in the varied identities of the girl, each investing her side of the character with different mannerisms and speech patterns.
Sandy, a brilliant young psychologist with a few skeletons in her closet becomes obsessed during nine months of counseling the student, ultimately neglecting her teaching responsibilities. Facing temporary termination of her scholastic duties, she suffers a nervous breakdown.
The doctor’s fervent interviews with the student, whose grades are failing and whose questionable behavior alarms the faculty, reveal several startling opposites.
While Sandy herself never appears, we are introduced to her many faces: the stammering, insecure Beth (Kirsten Allen); the hysterical, childlike Lara (Susannah Hoffman), an incest victim; the calm and comforting Kirsten (Valerie Leonard); a spirited tomboy, Kelly (Lauren Graham); and Trevin (Deirdre Madigan) , the dominant personality, who is hostile, arrogant and volatile.
The delicate pruning of the mind whittles away at the inner demons until the real personality emerges. The dialogue is crisp and the narrative often gripping. A bolder denouement might be in order for the slick, not fully satisfying second act.
Director Alyson Reed (star of the film “A Chorus Line”) moves the multifaced women fluently in and out of scene, sometimes slipping one into the same chair as another. Hansen has devised a tantalizing jigsaw puzzle for the stage, with actresses as the jagged and perplexing interlocking pieces. A single office set, designed by Ray Recht, is backed by angled bleachers and a darkened recess where the foggy five identities silently slip in and out of focus. F. Mitchell Dana’s lighting cautiously heightens the arrival of each new corner of the mind.
The drama offers plum roles for the players. Susan Cash as the determined and obsessive doctor is persuasive in her relentless pursuit. Hoffman grabs the heart as the frightened child, and Madigan brings grit and urgency to the pivotal Trevin. Marge Redmond offers sturdy support as the wise, protective department superior.
A future life for “Tangents” would seem assured, and a film would be an agent’s field day for femme clients.