"In the past, I've avoided doing any kind of play where a mentally ill person does something bad, because the stereotype is that they're all a bunch of serial killers," Bill Baker says cautiously. As the founding director of Our Own Voice Theatre Company, Baker works with like-minded artists to explore issues and ideas related to mental health. With his new play, The Ballad of Angie Awry — a play on the not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity legal plea — Baker is simultaneously exploring new territory and getting back to basics.
"Basically, I've tried to get inside of a person who commits a horrible crime," Baker says. "In the first act, all of her hallucinations are experienced by the audience. We get this extra information, the voices, the paranoia, the heightened trepidation. In the second act, I take that away so the audience is no longer subjectively inside the character. They are looking at things from the outside, as most of us do when we're watching someone with a mental illness on trial."
Baker isn't excusing the crime. "We will certainly recognize that what she's done is wrong," he says. "We'll also understand the obstacles and judgments that led her to these actions, and, hopefully, there will be some compassion for her."
Baker describes Angie Awry as a tragedy at the crossroads of the justice and mental-health-care systems, inspired by Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and legislation that would prevent the use of the death penalty in cases where a defendant has a severe and persistent mental illness.
Our Own Voice Theatre Company presents The Ballad of Angie Awry at TheatreWorks, April 26th-May 11th. $10.