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Arts & Performance

With New Work, Asheville Playwright Motivated To Counter Tropes Of Bipolar Disorder

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Oxalis is a weed-like ground cover that can quickly take over a lawn. Travis Lowe saw “Oxalis” as an apt metaphor and appropriate title for his latest stage play, about one woman’s experience with bipolar disorder.  


“It can have pretty flowers and it’s very hard to kill,” Lowe said. “So it can look like it’s completely dead for long periods of time and then seemingly come back to life.”  


“Oxalis” is premiering through Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective and it’s Lowe’s fifth play produced locally. Performances of “Oxalis” are Sept. 2-5 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts. 


A software developer by day, Lowe has performed with and written for Asheville theater companies since shortly after he and his wife moved from Atlanta about 15 years ago.


He developed the premise after observing polished portrayals of mental illness in popular entertainment. He mentioned the ending of the movie “Silver Linings Playbook” and episodes of “Law & Order” as examples. He said they rely on familiar tropes of mental illness and belie the actual experiences and challenges for the affected and those close to them. 


Nearly 3 percent of Americans are thought to be bipolar. It’s a neurological disorder that leads to severe mood swings and difficulty carrying out daily tasks. 


In building out his play’s central character, Lowe said he drew upon the Persephone myth. 


“A deal is struck where she spends half the year in the underworld and half the year with her mother, and that explains the seasons summer and winter and bloom and barrenness,” he said, explaining the myth. “It naturally lent itself to the idea of bipolar disorder dealing with manic high episodes and depressive lows.” 


Lowe said he consulted on his script with mental health professionals and those with bipolar disorder. He sees theater as an ideal vehicle for handling the complexity of mental health while also leaving room for audiences to interpret what they’ve seen and talk about it on their own, outside social media.  


“The other thing theater allows us to do is use these theatrical conventions, this sort of magical realism, the suspension of disbelief that we’re all watching a play,” he said. “Always our intent is to engender sympathy for someone who is often stigmatized in everyday life and to break people out of viewing someone who is diagnosed with a mental health disorder as some sort of other.” 


Travis Lowe is soon taking off his playwriting hat and moving to the stage himself, having just been cast in Asheville Community Theater’s fall production of “Clue.” 

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