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Dangerous Psychology: Balancing Science And “Threat”

Pagan Grace as Margaret and Mason Conrad as David in “Threat” at Whitefire Theatre [photo: Magdalena Calderon]

In the wake of mass shootings, one cannot help but wonder what particular disconnect made someone feel such an act was a good idea. Indeed, although the term “mental illness” is unfortunately waved about indiscriminately, there actually are some specific conditions which could be ripe under the right circumstances for such an act. So, what if you are a psychologist who specifically studied that kind of narcissism, and one of your patients’ behavior in your office begins to look that particular kind of threat?

This is the framework for Louis Felder’s “Threat,” currently at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. There, a psychiatrist who has struggled with academic disappointments of her own finds one of her patients – a graduate student with delusions of grandeur – gradually unraveling in dangerous ways. How does she manage this? What can she, and what should she, do?

Director Asaad Kelada has gathered a small, startlingly good cast, and has them bring a compelling realism and immediacy which prove captivating and repellent all at once. Pagan Urich creates in Margaret, the doctor, a balance of professionalism and artificial calm masking searing emotions of her own. John Posey, as her mentor and nemesis, stands in for the academic norm both she and her patient are angered by, though in very different ways.

Still, it is Mason Conrad’s profound performance as the deeply troubled, illogically logical David which centers this production. His ability to create the quick shifts of mood and fantasy, and combine them with a gradual descent into true and fearsome dangerousness creates the same inability to look away as a horrifying accident does. By avoiding stereotype, his character’s very humanity is perhaps the most frightening. There are moments when one feels empathy, and wonders of Margaret, for all her calm, does too.

The staging makes terrific use of the Whitefire’s small stage, as Matthew Richter’s visual effects enhance Madylin Sweeten’s essential set. This is a familiar office, and that very familiarity – that ordinariness – underscores the tensions of the play’s conundrums.

“Threat” is not an easy play, and being done without intermission there is no respite from what the audience must confront. However, it contains remarkable performances and some lasting question marks in its uneasy ending. This is thinking-persons’ theater, and well worth taking the time to see and mull over, especially given the current societal debates.

What: “Threat” When: Through May 4, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays Where: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks How Much: $25 general, $15 students with ID Info: (805) 419-8327 or

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