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Twisted Melodies: Donny Hathaway’s Battle with Mental Illness Topic of a Powerful Play

He regaled us with such hits as “Where is the Love?,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” the holiday staple “This Christmas,” and of course the deeply reflective, ultra-soulful “Song For You.”  But underneath the powerfully emotional voice of Donny Hathaway was a man who was fighting a tremendous battle that ultimately caused him to end his own life.

Twisted Melodies seeks to peel back the layers of a musical genius who was tortured by the mental anguish of paranoid schizophrenia.  In Donny Hathaway’s case, he suffered from delusions of persecution believing that  “white people were trying to steal his sound.” His stability was further diminished by the fact the he inconsistently took the medication that would have helped manage his symptoms.

 In this one-man show written by and featuring  Kelvin Roston Jr.,  Roston delves into Hathaway’s schizophrenic experience through the eyes of the tortured artist. Roston’s credits include: Purlie, Ruined, Death and the King’s Horseman, Othello and Caroline of Change (St. Louis Black Rep). One of his most notable roles was that of Jackie Wilson in The Jackie Wilson Story where he received a Joseph Jefferson Award nomination and received awards from The Black Theater Alliance and The African American Excellence Alliance (Black Ensemble Theater). 

The show seeks to shine a spotlight on the very real battle many people have with mental illness. Often a taboo subject, particularly in the Black community, it remains important to continue the conversation to encourage seeking help for those who suffer. According to Samuel G. Roberson, Jr., Artistic Director at Congo Square Theatre and also the director of Twisted Melodies,

The intent of Twisted Melodies is to open up a safe and healing conversation about mental illness in our community and ways 
we can help each other cope.  Donny Hathaway was a musical genius coping with schizophrenia, 
it was a part of him and a part of his music and brilliance.  Maybe seeing this illness through a beloved artist will allow us to view 
it differently than we have viewed it in the past.

The show is being presented by Congo Square Theatre in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). Twisted Melodies runs through September 13, 2015 at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago.  For ticket information, click here.

UPDATE: Don’t despair if you thought you missed Twisted Melodies! There’s a remount for the show Friday, September 18, 2015 through Sunday, September 20, 2015 at Athenaeum Theatre Studio. The show is not suitable for children under 13 as it contains strong language. A post-show discussion will follow. For ticket information, click here.

If you or someone you know if suffering from mental illness, click here for additional information on support, education resources and raising awareness.


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