Saturday, July 31, 2010

NAMI in California says "Lunatic Binge" musical show mocks those with mental illness

From The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif.:

A national advocacy group for the mentally ill is decrying a Sebastopol musical show that plays on the theme of insanity and encourages guests to dress in straitjackets and hospital gowns.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness said HopMonk Tavern’s “Lunatic Binge,” planned for July 30, reinforces stereotypes about people suffering serious ailments and should be cancelled.

Trula LaCalle, executive director of the California organization, said poking fun at the insane is no different than mocking those with cancer or other disabilities.

“It’s totally inappropriate and rude,” she said. “This is not something I would expect from the enlightened citizenry of Sebastopol.”

Rosemary Milbrath, head of the Sonoma County NAMI chapter, said in a letter to HopMonk owner Dean Biersch that members statewide were “poised to become involved if needed.”

However, it was unclear if the group planned to demonstrate outside the show. She could not be reached Friday for comment.

Biersch, a co-founder of Gordon Biersch Brewery, would not return calls but a spokesman for the tavern said he was shocked at the group’s reaction considering Hopmonk’s past fundraiser at the brew pub for Haitian relief.

HopMonk spokesman Michael Coats said Biersch is keenly aware of “outside issues” but has no plans to cancel or change the show. He said he did not know if Biersch would meet with members of NAMI as requested in the letter.

“We’re a bit surprised about any controversy around this show on Saturday considering the band and HopMonk raised $11,000 cash for Haitian relief,” Coats said.

The theme was the idea of the events headliner group, Baby Seal Club, a local indie rock band whose members on Friday defended the show.

The band’s bass player, who identified himself only as Wizzbang, said the intent was to mock archaic institutions and stigmas, not mentally ill people.

In fact, the band is sympathetic to the plight of the mentally challenged and some have family members who have suffered, he said.

“We are embracing the darkness rather than letting the darkness consume us,” he said. “We see humor as medicine.”

Another band member said NAMI was overreacting. The band had received a number of e-mails from mental health advocates angry about the show.

“There was confusion and misunderstanding about our intention,” Wizzbang said. A letter about the show was posted on the band’s website.

But advocates were unsatisfied with the explanation.

LaCalle said poking fun at a group is not the way to break a stigma. “I don’t buy their rationalization,” she said.

She said her group got Burger King to drop ads depicting the king being chased by men in white coats. NAMI could bring it’s forces to bear on HopMonk, she said.

The brew pub should cancel and issue a formal apology for promotions running in the Bohemian weekly newspaper depicting people with wild hair and gowns slit at the back, she said.

One ad promised the “things are going to get weird” at the show.

“When you’re on the receiving end it’s not funny at all,” LaCalle said.