Highly Recommended **** Scientology has always been interesting to people outside it. They discourage journalists, psychiatrists, and any outsiders to pry into their affairs, which are open secrets now because of the number of ex-Scientologists, many of them disgruntled and vocal about it.
In a solo performance, voiceover artist and actor Cathy Schenkelberg recounts her time in Scientology, giving us a play-by-play of her progression through the courses, with a running counter of the cash laid out to reach “clear” and beyond.
The money is always a gory detail in stories of ex-Scientologists, probably one reason they discouraged internet use as well as porn, masturbation, or, seemingly, relationships of any kind with those outside Scientology (those relationships are not clear, I guess).
Cathy is not exactly disgruntled, though she is by the end deeply skeptical. She portrays the events straightforwardly, letting the absurdities of both the lingo and the logic of her teachers speak for themselves as she moves through the stages.
She presents herself as a naïve woman from the Ozarks, but Schenkelberg is funny and charming, with not a little personal power, so it’s hard to understand at first how she was lured into Scientology. When she discusses the acting classes and the psychotherapy-like “auditing,” it makes more sense.
Actors are drawn to Scientology and it actively lures them. Those with personal charm are more likely to present a palatable outward face of Scientology, and also lure in garden-variety narcissists who are bent on self-improvement (i.e. self-idolization).
As a vocal performer Schenkelberg excels in the flat expression of the Scientology auditor as well as her own younger self’s flamboyant reactions. Her manner of being swept along with events, and her increasingly manic responses to the auditor’s intimate and pointed questions, are contrasted with the small, claustrophic setting.
We get a sense of the pressure that auditors exert, the narrowing of options as you look for “overts” and “withholds,” as the damn needle on the e-meter refuses to float.
Though the play lacked much interaction with the larger world, that adds to the sense of being cut off and alone that she undoubtedly felt. When we do get a glimpse into Cathy’s younger life and her relationship with her dad, though it’s irrelevant, widens the limits of the story and provides relief.
I was left with a sense of the relentless tide of momentum that the cult is able to gather, creating a state of emergency for the people involved, puffing up and then decimating their self-importance, defusing their ability to reality check with anyone outside the cult. Spic and span, you’re halfway there.
Somehow, amidst this suffocating mise en scène, the play is consistently dynamic and funny. The audience was laughing throughout the hour-long performance. I’m sure that in the writing this took quite a bit of pride-swallowing to accomplish—and that is Schenkelberg’s real tricky triumph.
Squeeze My Cans
By Cathy Schenkelberg
Through Sunday, July 24
2257 N Lincoln Avenue
Tickets: $25-$30 (See three plays in the Solo Celebration! Series for $99)
Friday 7/15 and 7/22 7:30 PM
Saturday 7/16 and 7/23 7:30 PM
Sunday 7/24 2:00 PM
Buy online at greenhousetheater.org or call 773-404-7336
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