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Focus on a broken system

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Writing has always been a way of healing for Marguerite Louise Scott.

That includes when the Santa Fe-based performer struggled with her own mental health and, especially, the country’s system of care for those with mental health problems.

From the early ’90s until about 2012, during which time she lived in Boston, Portland and Durango, Colo., Scott was hospitalized eight to 10 times, and also made her way through various outpatient clinics due to her severe depression, PTSD and anorexia, she said.

During that time, she wrote short shows or one-act performances as an outlet for her frustrations with the mental health care system.

“One of the things I saw was things getting worse and not better,” she said. “Because they were having less and less resources.”

And after doing some research, she said she’s realized the quality of mental health facilities for people like her – without much money and no insurance – hasn’t improved much since then.

Now, Scott has written her first full-length play, a “truish” story based on her experiences.

“Flight Plan,” a dark comedy about four people who have been admitted to the Sunnyland Sanctuary Mental Ward for low-income patients, is making its premiere at the Santa Fe Playhouse. The title is based on the phrase “the flight deck,” slang for a mental health ward, as well the characters’ wishes to escape things in their lives.

Linda Loving plays Nurse Hammer in “Flight Plan.” (Courtesy of Carrie McCarthy)

“From the get-go … you are just, ‘Oh, this is not a good place,’ ” said Samantha Orner, who plays Arianna, a young woman who is admitted to Sunnyland Sanctuary following a suicide attempt.

“It’s not a place of care or healing or anything positive. It’s just an adult day care with medication.”

Over-prescribing of psychiatric medication was something Scott says she experienced during her time in and out of mental health facilities, and it is a problem she wants to bring to light with the show. Her play also puts focus on a lack of compassion among some doctors and nurses, who can often be overwhelmed and overworked, as well as stigmas about mental health.

“I don’t want to say that everyone in the mental health system is bad,” said Scott. “I truly don’t believe that. I believe the mental health system is broken.”

What saved her, Scott said, was a transition to alternative, non-medication-dependent therapies. She also cites Santa Fe’s affordable Southwest Counseling Center, where she can have sessions with graduate students for a discounted price.

Don Converse and Tyler Nunez play patients Bernard and James at Sunnyland Sanctuary mental ward in “Flight Plan.” The play, written by Santa Fean Marguerite Louise Scott, is a “truish” story based on her experiences with the mental health system. (Courtesy of Carrie Mccarthy)

Arianna is based on Scott’s personal journey, she said. The other characters are all based on people she met during treatment, including Celia, a woman who is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder; Bernard, who is suffering from grief-induced dementia after the death of his wife; and James, a young man who has a slew of issues, including obsessive compulsive disorder and an eating disorder.

The Sunnyland staff – Nurse Hammer and Dr. Fraued, an intentional combination of fraud and Freud – are described by Scott as exaggerated versions of problematic mental health professionals. They are meant to show the big-picture flaws that exist within the system, according to Vaughn Irving, Santa Fe Playhouse’s artistic director, who plays Dr. Fraued.

Adding comedic elements to the show, according to Scott, was a way for her to tell her story and still make it watchable for an audience. What also helped was letting go of her “shame.”

“I don’t feel like it’s something I need to hide anymore,” she said.

With its twists and turns, Scott describes “Flight Plan” as leaving the audience with a glimmer of hope. She wants people to leave the show with more compassion for the mentally ill and thinking about the need for the U.S. to prioritize its mental health system.

“And I definitely think this is a play that can start a conversation,” said Irving. “And people are going to go home and discuss ‘Does that really happen? I don’t know.’ And they’ll look it up and see that it does. And that can’t be bad.”