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‘Orange Is the New Black’ Star Taryn Manning’s New Indie Says Something Novel About Bipolar Disorder

'Orange Is the New Black' Star Taryn Manning's New Indie Says Something Novel About Bipolar Disorder

Distributors are sniffing around “A Light Beneath Their
Feet” for very good reason. Not only does director Valerie Weiss’s latest
effort straddle several genres simultaneously—among them, the coming-of-age
drama and the social critique—it also features a pair of break-out
performances: Madison Davenport (Tina Fey’s daughter in the upcoming “Sisters”), who plays high-schooler Beth Gerringson; and Taryn Manning (“Orange Is the New
Black”), who plays Beth’s mother, Gloria.

Another mother-daughter drama, you ask (or sigh, or whine,
or moan)? Not quite. Beth has problems with her mother, and wants to flee their
home in Chicago for UCLA. But it’s not because she hates her. Far from it. It’s
because, despite her academic achievements, Beth has been a full-time caretaker
for her mother—who’s seriously bipolar—ever since her father left. She’s
got caregiver burnout. And while she’s wracked by guilt over wanting to go,
she’s also wracked by the knowledge of the regret she’ll feel if she doesn’t
finally get away.

The wild card is Manning, who was among the “OITNB” cast
members who won last year’s SAG award for Best Ensemble (Comedy), and
who are up for it again this year. Actors are drawn to mentally
challenged/disturbed/disabled characters like bears to honey, because they test
the performer’s range and also, don’t we know, tend to get noticed. But
Manning, under Weiss’s direction, puts a spin on Gloria that distinguishes her
from similarly unstable characters.

Playing bipolar presents the opportunity
for wildly divergent displays of mood and mania, but even at her most antic,
Manning’s Gloria has a sense of humor. She’s likable. She makes you nervous,
yes. But you don’t dislike her, or necessarily want to get away from her. And
by constructing Gloria this way, Manning enhances Davenport’s performance: The
viewer understands better why the daughter wants to get away, and doesn’t: Her
mother is fun. She’s just a little crazy. And embarrassing (but what parent
isn’t?).

“A Light Beneath Their Feet” has played Mill Valley (where
it won the Gold Audience Favorite Award for U.S. Indie) and the Whistler
festival (where it won the EDA Award from the Alliance of Women Film
Journalists for Best-Directed Feature), and is scheduled for the Chicago
International Film Festival, Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, Cucalorous
Film Festival, Tallgrass Film Festival, and Heartland Film Festival. One shouldn’t
be too concerned. It will be coming your way. The hope here is that Manning’s
performance gets the attention it deserves, because it says something new about
the bipolar condition.

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