Written by: Evan Kohne
All of Me is advertised as a look at depression, death, and living with suicidal thoughts lurking around the corner. Caroline Horton immediately makes it clear that she has no intention of living up to the advertisement. With a loud voice, she proclaims that the audience will not be seeing “all of me as the poster promised.” “Sorry,” Horton adds. In fact, what we will be seeing is not a performance, but a myth, loosely based on her life, that will be freely flowing from her. Don’t expect something grand, she begs. Just be ready for something real.
Throughout the performance, Horton performs several smaller pieces, from singing her life story to using recordings to create cacophonies of sound. The sound is particularly interesting, for it creates the feeling of being crushed and incapacitated by the world. It starts as breathing into a microphone to create the sound of the sea. However, as more layers (seagulls, screaming children, crashing waves and screeching wind) are piled on top, the sound becomes overwhelming. The audience is brought into Horton’s mind and experiences the overwhelming sensations she is assaulted by regularly.
In her review of the play, Catherine Love notes that All of Me is messy, yet beautiful. It presents mental health not as a simple or redemptive story, but one that “ebbs and flows- as well as something that responds to the society we live in” (1). Horton’s show physically reflects this as well, with lighter and more positive moments giving way to her entering the underworld, complete with red lights, bass mic to lower her voice, and feathered headdress.
The audience should leave somewhat confused as to where exactly the show lands, but therein lies the genius. Horton reflects the feeling of living with depression and suicidal thoughts. Uncertainty is constant in this state, and to have a clear ending or resolution would be dishonest. Instead, it is up to the individual to find what piece they wish to carry with them beyond the theater’s walls.
Performances of this kind are so rare because they make performers vulnerable. Instead of having a polished and prepared piece to lean on, All of Me can leave the audience confused and disillusioned with Horton. It would not be surprising to me if several people left the theater upset that their questions weren’t answered. Of course this would scare a performer and discourage them from such a show. Is so much risk worth the reward we may reap from such an endeavor?
Horton seems to conclude that yes, such performances are worth it, for they bare the soul to the viewer. It’s honest portrayal of mental health is needed in an age where many performances mishandle the topic. But more importantly, the show succeeds or fails squarely on the performer’s ability to hold the audience captive with their performance. Horton succeeds in this, and keeps the audience entranced while breaking many of the written and unwritten rules of performance.
The need to tell these genuine stories is vital in our society. With so much of our knowledge based on the media we consume, having plays and performances that truly capture the complexities of life are incredibly valuable. Whether Horton is acting or not, the picture she is painting is real. It is a performance to the audience, and that is what ultimately matters. So long as they get a clear and accurate message from the play, then Horton’s less polished style is the way we should go.