Adam Strauss, a comedian from New York, has turned a particularly interior experience into a one-man show. “The Mushroom Cure,” written and performed by Strauss himself, depicts his pursuit of a cure for his obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. This potential cure comes in the form of psychedelic mushrooms — a tactic he read about in a scientific study — and this premise results in an utterly compelling and honest performance.
After performances in Edinburgh, New York and San Francisco, “The Mushroom Cure” has made its way to Berkeley’s The Marsh. Directed by Jonathan Libman, the show is experiencing yet another extraordinary run.
The small theater of The Marsh is perfect for Strauss’ show, given the deeply personal nature of the story. “The Mushroom Cure” is referred to as a completely true story, both in its publicity and within the show itself, which strengthens the empathetic connection between Strauss and the audience. It feels as though Strauss is merely telling a story, rather than acting through a script.
The audience receives a candid and up-close look into how Strauss’ OCD affects his everyday life. In one scene, he details the excruciating process of picking a shirt to wear for the day. It begins with changing shirts an excessive amount of times, making him consistently late to events. Later, this compulsion evolves into figuring out which shirt looks best on him — from taking a survey of friends and family to taking note of which shirt gets him compliments — in order to buy 10 copies of that one shirt.
Strauss depicts the interiority of his mind by cutting off his own sentences and dramatizes frustration through physicality, such as pacing. But through it all, Strauss never leans into the heartbreaking reality of the situation, choosing instead to mine it for humor — he manages to make his pain into something that can be laughed at.
The show also portrays how OCD affects Strauss’ love life during his experimentation with psychedelics. Around the time that he reads about the aforementioned scientific study, he meets a woman named Grace, with whom he begins a relationship. She becomes an outlet for him to talk through his experimentation, while also depicting how his mental illness gets in the way of his romantic pursuits. And, despite being portrayed by Strauss, she is incredibly fleshed-out and distinct as a character in his story.
In a moment that is especially poignant and memorable, Strauss’ OCD begins to seep into how he views Grace. He notices that her smile is uneven and can’t stop fixating on it. Then he thinks affectionately about how she’s so easygoing — except maybe too easygoing; he laments their lack of tension. It’s a moment that fully cements the strong hold that this illness has over Strauss and exactly why he invested so much time and effort into his pursuit of psychedelics.
Most of all though, “The Mushroom Cure” is intensely moving. As an audience member, one feels all of his suffering. There is a raw, unrefined quality to the narrative, one that doesn’t undermine the process of empathizing with Strauss’ experience of OCD. Such qualities are perhaps best showcased in the play’s final scene — there is no neatly tied conclusion, and the play ends in the manner that the whole performance has played out: realistically. Despite not having a concrete conclusion, the ending is completely satisfactory, affirming that Strauss’ story is memorable, striking and the kind of story that deserves to be retold.
“The Mushroom Cure” runs through April 28 at Berkeley’s The Marsh.