A new play written by actress Brooke Adams takes its title from the two elements that define the story. The dark comedy, which will be presented as a staged reading by the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse this weekend, is called “Delusion by Proxy” — a reference to a psychiatric syndrome in which delusions are shared by one or more individuals.
In this case, the teenage daughter of a middle-class family is negatively influenced by an unbalanced young woman whom she has connected with romantically. In the larger picture, the play, which is set in the year 2025, comments on a society that has been taken over by a totalitarian regime, a condition that has been blindly accepted by the American citizens of a dystopian near future.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” says Adams. “Before Trump was even nominated, I would hear people laughing about him, thinking of him as just some buffoon. I thought, ‘That’s why he’s so dangerous. People don’t know how to react.’”
Adams, like many of us, has real concerns about the direction this country is headed. “The thought that Trump is like Hitler, in that people don’t know how to stop what’s going on, is not so farfetched,” explains the playwright. “People go along with it all. It can happen so quickly. The whole climate right now, with this horrible tribalism where we’ve got this civil war going on, could quickly lead to something even more dangerous. I’ve always been fascinated with what it must have been like for the average German citizen under Nazi rule.”
Despite its serious theme, there’s a good deal of humor in “Delusion by Proxy.” “Where the comedy comes in is that in this horrifying, bleak world, people are still just going on with their little lives and their own situations,” explains Adams. “That’s the comedy of life.”
Adams has assembled an impressive cast for her play, including her sister, actress/writer Lynn Adams, and her longtime friend Jamie Donnelly, a member of the original U.S. cast of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and perhaps best known for her role in the film “Grease.” Both actresses participated in a Monday Night Special reading of the play last year. Adams also recruited her husband, Tony Shalhoub, and theater and film actress Ella Dershowitz to fill out the cast, along with newcomer Erica Bitton.
The reading will be directed by Tony awardwinning actress and director Judith Ivey. The cast and director have been on-Island since last week rehearsing. Adams and Shalhoub are part-time residents of the Vineyard, and both have participated in performances at the playhouse over the years.
Although Adams may be best known for her work in film, she got her start in the theater, which she considers her first and most enduring passion. She was raised in a theatrical family. Her father ran a musical theater in Flint, Mich., where the actress made her first stage appearances. She and her husband met while both were performing on Broadway in “The Heidi Chronicles.” Adams has many other theater roles, on and off Broadway and in regional productions, to her credit.
Adams’ play was produced by the playhouse previously under the title “Dystopian Daze.” Since then, the play has been presented as a reading by the Lark Theater in New York City.
The playwright explains the title change. “I went to a dinner with [renowned psychiatrist, author and educator] James Gilligan. He asked how I would describe the relationship between the two young women in the play, and agreed that it sounded like delusion by proxy. Later, when he was talking about what’s going on in the government, he referred to the situation as delusion by proxy.”
Adams describes the play as a cautionary tale. The playhouse website calls it “a dark comedy about love and tyranny.”
Staged reading of “Delusion by Proxy” by Brooke Adams, directed by Judith Ivey and starring Jamie Donnelly, Tony Shalhoub, Ella Dershowitz, Lynn Adams, and Erica Bitton, Friday, Oct. 19, and Saturday, Oct. 20, at 7 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. Tickets for the Friday performance are $50; Saturday tickets at $75 include a reception after the show.