A Little Bit Not Normal Interprets Genetic Depression With Humor

Arlene Malinowski, photo by Liz Lauren

Arlene Malinowski has written and performs in A Little Bit Not Normal, her solo show about struggles with depression, personified here, peppered with humor as well as sign language, since she’s the hearing child of deaf parents.

Lisa Portes directs the 80-minute show on a sparse stage, populated by two wooden chairs and ginger-headed Malinowski, sporting all black, Sally Jessy Raphael red spex and a bold lip. Malinowski’s been interpreting for her family since she was 6 years old, so she organically underscores her familial interactions with ASL, chronicling her discovery of a genetic history of depression, “a secret past forged in secret shame for six decades,” to which she succumbs for several years. She talks about her husband Dan, “quiet and reserved and hating attention,” being by her side as she navigated countless doctors and drug cocktails, a “pharmaceutical Burning Man.” At their wedding, the shorter groom jokes, “I married up.” Malinowski also acknowledges her luck in finding a nearly unwavering partner during her dark period, which began October 16, 2002, “the day my brain broke,” as he writes daily affirmations for her in a shared black notebook, although sometimes “the weight of his halo crushes me.” Suffering panic attacks and unable to cope in 3D, she disappears into playing The Sims on the computer, building a cyberworld “to take me out of myself,” to a terrain that she can control, especially when unable to leave the house or bed. In an attempt to exit “the hole” of her depression, she finds “alchemy and luck, not science” at Rush Women’s Health Center, and other easily accessible facilities because “when you’re depressed, you don’t want to have to deal with parking.” Contrary to the current AHCA debate, Malinowski notes that mental health issues are prevalent, that one in four people suffer emotional disorders in their lifetime. This is symbolized by a brown paper bag at the theater’s entrance, where audiences drop in a coin for each family member they know is afflicted. Trumpcare proponents concur with what Malinowski decries, that mental illness is a moral failure. Her presence on stage proves that depression is not only NOT a downfall, but also a reason to venture back into the real world and tell your truth. Tickets are $20, and Victory Gardens will provide one free ticket to a Chicago Public school student for every ticket purchased to the Up Close and Personal Series. Malinowski’s show runs in rep with Where Did We Sit on the Bus? and St. Jude, Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. A Little Bit Not Normal will be ASL-interpreted today, May 20, at 7:30 p.m., and May 27 at 3 p.m. Word for Word (Open Captioning) will be offered on May 20 at 7:30 p.m., May 27 at 3 p.m., and June 2 at 7:30 p.m. (There will also be an audio description for this closing show.) A Little Bit Not Normal runs through June 2 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets and information available online and at 773-871-3000.
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Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.