by Sergei Burbank · February 23, 2014
Almost a Genius is Maria Wojciechowski’s autobiographical account of her diagnosis with bipolar disorder: both how the diagnosis re-contextualized her early youth and how this knowledge helps inform her self-awareness going forward. The performance alternates between comedic monologues in character and Wojciechowski addressing us as herself, recounting interactions with family and friends. Breaking down her condition into layman’s terms of extremely high high and extremely low lows, the format of the evening is perfect -- a gleeful embrace of her wandering thoughts and wide range of enthusiasms. It’s not quite a stand-up comedy special, nor is it a fully fleshed out multiple character piece, but its lack of definable genre doesn’t take away from the enjoyability of the evening. Wojciechowski is a gifted writer, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments of wordplay and wit.
With a range of talents to display -- including a lovely singing voice, enviable accordion chops, and elegantly graceful dance movements -- Wojciechowski is fearless in going for a connection with her audience: she happily sings nonsense and turns a jeté into a face-first pratfall without hesitation. This bravery and abandon is puzzlingly paired with the sense that Wojciechowski is holding back; this could have been partly because the night I attended, it seemed that a large contingent of Wojciechowski’s family did as well: biting monologues mocking her father’s faith were punctuated with whispered apologies during blackouts, which made it feel less like a performance and more like an awkward family dinner. Sometimes you ached for this daring performer to whip her daggers into the audience with the same conviction as her nose met the floor: her writing is absolutely strong enough to back her up, should she have the confidence to deploy it.
Wojciechowski’s primary strength is her language: she possesses a sharp wit, a clarity of prose and a resistance to nonsense that has the potential to make an audience far more uncomfortable with her intelligence rather than their ignorance about her mental illness, yet her generosity of spirit lets us off the hook. It is tantalizing to imagine where her writing could go if she allowed it to be more cruel.
But cruelty is not her purpose, nor is hopelessness; this is not at all surprising in a show that mines draft suicide notes for comedy, and reinforces her message that understanding and patience are tools --if not for happiness, then at least for survival.