Get Your Tics For “Syndrome,” Play About Tourette’s

And why Kirk Wood Bromley, master of verse plays, isn't dating Jennifer Lawrence.

Timothy McCown Reynolds in "Syndrome."

I’m biased, but given our current and chronic national syndrome of alt-normal and off-kilter, if there’s one thing we really need right now, it’s a play by Kirk Wood Bromley. Ever a more fertile, fearless, facile playwright, operating less in defiance of the mainstream and more as the alpha cat in his own distinct verbal habitat, I do not know. He has created verse plays for nearly 30 years now — which, at 30 plays, is a lot of verse; his producers have included leading legends as well as the occasional loon. With his Inverse Theater, Bromley’s honors include Best Downtown Theater Company (New York Press, 2001), the Berrilla Kerr Foundation Playwriting Award (2001), three New York International Fringe Festival Excellence Awards (2002, 2003, 2009), and the first Caffe Cino Award (New York Innovative Theatre Awards, 2005). Last year, Bromley became a resident at New Dramatists, a seven-year gig. His bio on the organization’s website ends with:

He is currently transcribing revelations regarding a new world religion called ONOMOME. These transcriptions will eventually make up five dramatic texts, collectively entitled The Feeling, which tell the story of the re-emergence of the extinct Onomome People, their return to their beloved homeland, Begiddlend, and their reunion with their ontological effervescence, the Feeling.

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Bromley’s Syndrome, written over a decade ago, is currently being revisited at The Brick, in Williamsburg, through March 20, in a co-production with Loup Garou Internationale. It seeks to “illustrate the seemingly simple dilemma of a man with Tourette’s Syndrome working up the nerve to meet his parents for dinner, and goes on to portray the varied complexity of the syndrome and its effect upon the person who must live with it.” The play is based on a concept by Joshua Lewis Berg, who was diagnosed with Tourette’s at 26, commissioned the play, and originally starred in it. The role (or roles: Egon and Syndrome) is played by the superb Timothy McCown Reynolds, who provided a bio for the CFR that is pitch-perfect for appearing in a Bromley play:

A time-traveler and shape-shifter engaged in the pursuit the ever-deepening mysteries of the universe. He loves, acts, writes, directs, designs, draws, paints, sculpts, builds, wonders, wanders, games, and enacts as many other forms of magick in art and art in magick pursuant to his aforementioned end (see above). He looks forward to the earth reclaiming itself, and is most at home in the deep woods, which is his cathedral.  Sometimes he refers to himself in the third person.

This production of Syndrome is directed by Brendan Turk. For tickets, click here.

And now, 5 questions that Kirk Wood Bromley and Timothy McCown Reynolds have never been asked:

What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?

KB: “Do you love your audience?”
TR: That was you up there?

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What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?

KB: “What does it mean?”
TR: “How do you memorize all of those lines?”

What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?

KB: “How should we split the profits?”
TR: “What movies have you been in?”

Kirk, what were the circumstances that led Joshua to commission this play, and what were the three most challenging or daunting aspects to the assignment?

The playwright.

Josh was in a couple plays of mine at Nada, and he approached me and asked if I would write a one-man show for him on commission. I said sure, and we talked about what might be unique about him, and after some discussion he casually mentioned that he had Tourette’s, like I must have known because he would always spend a bit of time before every performance tic-ing frantically in the corner of the dressing room, which I had noticed but just took for his warm-up but later learned was his way of getting his tics out so he could not have any for the two hours traffic of the stage. So we set to interviewing him about his experience and I started learning about the diagnosis. The three most challenging aspects were making the tic-ing words seem genuinely glitchy and unattached from his regular discourse, making a story that was both true to his actual life and crazy compelling, and crafting a text that satisfied both my lurid poetic interests and his professional showcase goals.

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Actor Timothy McCown Reynolds.

Tim, knowing this play was commissioned by someone with Tourette’s and, indeed, that the character was first played by that person, which acting pitfalls you avoid?

The greatest challenge to manifesting Egon/Syndrome is in the mystery of grasping the scope of what the work requires, i.e. what it needs to be, then getting out of the way and letting it become what it inherently is: the story of a person engaged in a process of self-discovery and personal understanding about themselves and their place in the universe.

There was a kerfuffle several years ago when the replacement for the lead in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on Broadway — a character clearly on the spectrum — was not an actor himself on the spectrum. Is it important for someone with Tourette’s to appear in this play?

KB: If I cared what audiences know about I’d know what audiences care about and I’d be dating Jennifer Lawrence. And convincing her in a southern and sexual manner that our democracy is only broken in the sense that actors think that giving up acting is the way to fix it. But as for what’s important in other peoples’ projects, I find it unproductive as a dialogician to speak with the surety of nine publicly funded social theorists trapped on the malfunctioning motion simulator of supply and demand unless I, myself, have successfully assessed my own disorders, which I don’t pretend to have done except when I’m pretending to be someone else — i.e., “know thyself” is a Socratic hoax in the pockets of the theatrical prejudice.

TR: Representation is important. The play was presented (and therefore represented) by someone with Tourette’s; and lately it has been enacted by someone who hasn’t been diagnosed with Tourette’s – at least, as of yet. But really, Egon/Syndrome is like anyone else. That is part of the mystery of the work: when enacting Egon/Syndrome, I do have Tourette’s, because I let Syndrome in to work through me.