Explore mental illness through four plays

State Of Mind stars (from left) Leianne Tan, Yeo Yann Yann, Karen Tan and Andrew Marko.
State Of Mind stars (from left) Leianne Tan, Yeo Yann Yann, Karen Tan and Andrew Marko.PHOTO: PLAYGROUND ENTERTAINMENT

In a rehearsal room in Tanglin Road, actor Andrew Marko lies on large white sheets of paper, immersed in the role of an insomniac.

Actress Karen Tan scribbles around him while sound technicians crank up the volume of a recorded ticking clock.

The performers and director Thong Pei Qin are rehearsing State Of Mind, a sold-out presentation of four new plays from local playwrights. It runs at The Arts House's Play Den from tomorrow to Saturday.

As the production title hints, all the plays are based on themes of mental illness.

In one called The Weight Of Emptiness by Tan Suet Lee, actresses Tan and Yeo Yann Yann play a mother and daughter affected by the former's obsessive hoarding habits.

Marko plays a man with the seemingly perfect life, who nevertheless plans his suicide in Dora Tan's Sadness Is The New Normal.

Skin Deep, a new work by storied playwright Jean Tay, is about a mother learning that her daughter mutilates herself. Then there is The Greatest Love Of All by Jacke Chye, about a woman convinced that she is the late diva Whitney Houston.

Chye is the brains behind this production from his troupe, Playground Entertainment. Its last outing was the Chinese New Year comedy Firecrackers & Bombshells in 2014.

State Of Mind was born from his conversations with the other playwrights about his experiences as a "caregiver" to a flatmate with depression. This was more than 20 years ago, when he was studying in Perth.

For two years, Chye, now 49, made sure his friend took his medication and went to the doctor. Little was known or spoken about depression at that time.

He finds today's increasing openness about mental health issues refreshing, but says more could be done to make sure people with problems do not feel they have to hide.

He says: "It's just ordinary people with these conditions, like diabetes. It's not scary."

Cast and director agree with Chye in not wanting to make the characters in these plays "other" and frightening. Director Thong, 30, says: "Our responsibility here is to tell stories about people who live among us."

With the cast, she and Chye offer different summaries of each play. The Weight Of Emptiness is "freedom" from past burdens.

Sadness Is The New Normal is about "hope". Skin Deep is about "reconciliation" between parent and child while The Greatest Love Of All is about "redemption".

Actress Tan, 49, says: "These are four plays that just happen to be about mental illness."

•State Of Mind is sold out. For details, go to stateofmind.peatix.com/

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Explore mental illness through four plays'. Print Edition | Subscribe