'Invasive Species' review — a daring show with a shining ensemble

Read our review of Invasive Species off Broadway, a new play directed by Pulitzer Prize finalist Michael Breslin and written by and starring Maia Novi.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

Maia Novi’s Invasive Species, a dramatized account of her stay in a psychiatric hospital, is running off Broadway at Vineyard Theatre after last year’s premiere at The Tank. The new production feels more grounded in Novi’s family history and illness and less laudatory of its origins at the Yale School of Drama of it all, though the school is still an ominous backdrop.

While Novi’s brutal honesty impresses, the ensemble also shines in their versatility, embodying teenage psychiatric patients as well as doctors, directors, and professors. Alexandra Maurice delivers a cutting and devastating turn as Akila, a 16-year-old survivor of suicide; Raffi Donatich infuses both her authoritarian nurse and her meddling talent agent with wit and a sharpness that hints at something more frightening; Sam Gonzalez turns deftly between his teenage psychiatric patient and the attending doctor.

It’s hard not to feel as confused as Novi, or to get swept up in the play’s melee. These abrupt transitions, however, sometimes feel too exclamatory, like they cut off climactic moments before they have time to land.

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Invasive Species summary

Maia Novi’s play is an experiment in autofiction. Though a literal “acting bug” (played by Julian Sanchez) did not literally bite her as a child, she was nevertheless infected with the desire to become a star in American movies. Leaving her native Argentina, she enrolls at the Yale School of Drama, where her professors are confused by her accent and her peers confused by her confusion.

With her final showcase coming up, Novi is haunted by insomnia and seeks out a psychiatrist who offers her a sleeping pill. Novi wakes up in a psychiatric facility for teenagers, with no one believing that she is 25 or that her friends and family don’t know where she is. To be released, Novi must tackle the voices in her head and take the advice of the teenagers with her.

What to expect at Invasive Species

Invasive Species is a short but fully engaging play at 80 minutes. Novi’s journey with mental illness is at the heart of the play, which tackles suicide and suicidal ideation, schizophrenia and auditory hallucinations, self-harm, and depression and anxiety. The characters discuss methods of attempting suicide, though the attempts are not physically depicted. Invasive Species also features simulated sexual acts.

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What audiences are saying About Invasive Species

Invasive Species has an 89% audience approval score on Show-Score.

“Superb use of space and light.” - Show-Score user XS2211. Lighting design is by Yichen Zhou. “See it if the acting bug is real.” - Show-Score user tragic_fruit "Relatable [especially] for actors and foreign artists in the US." - Show-Score user XS2211

Read more audience reviews of Invasive Species on Show-Score.

Who should see Invasive Species

  • Fans of playwright Jeremy O. Harris’s work, including the Tony Award-nominated Slave Play and HBO’s Euphoria, will feel right at home. Harris is a producer on Invasive Species.
  • Director Michael Breslin of the theatre company Fake Friends lends a signature wackiness to the play. If you enjoyed Fake Friends' This American Wife or Pulitzer Prize-nominated Circle Jerk, you’ll be enthralled by Invasive Species.
  • If you enjoyed the show’s run last year at The Tank, or if you have strong feelings about the musical Evita, then Invasive Species is worth a visit to Vineyard.

Learn more about Invasive Species off Broadway

Invasive Species has a production dream team that will earn accolades almost regardless of the show’s performance. But the play deserves applause for Novi’s risk-taking and the cast’s cohesion.

Invasive Species is at Vineyard Theatre through June 30.

Photo credit: Invasive Species off Broadway. (Photos by Julieta Cervantes)

Originally published on

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