Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
by Les Gutman
How often do you get to see a play that humanizes a tumor?
I ask this question right off because, if empathizing with an ugly, abnormal body mass (portrayed here in all its bulbous glory by Christopher Sorenson) is not your cup of tea, then this zinger-filled black comedy is best left as terra incognita. I can pretty much guarantee that the easily offended will be.
If, on the other hand, you're game for a little sick humor, this lightning-fast new play by Bryan Parks will not let you down. Goner is set in a fictitious Washington DC hospital named after Bruno Hauptman. "Why Hauptman?" you ask. Why not? Goner, which Parks describes as one of his "pop romps through the American landscape," has all of the free association of a bad fever dream.
The President of the United States, Waterford Novi (Douglas Manes), has been shot in the head, a situation not nearly as life-threatening as the decision to bring him to this particular hospital. It's run by a practitioner of post-modern medicine, Dr. Wyandotte (David Calvitto), a malpractice case looking for a place to happen. He thinks, as an example, that chlamydia is a character in a Greek tragedy. His support team, such as it is, includes a cranial expert, Dr. Ecourse Southgate (Paul Urcioli), whose main interests are playing the glockenspiel and marketing a specially designed version of Barbie for chemotherapy patients. There's also an earnest newcomer, Dr. Hoyt Schermerhorn (Daniel P. Hope). The young doc has a different sort of focus: he is quickly diverted from his oath when he falls in love with Wyandotte's daughter, Wixom (Jenny Maguire), who is currently employed as the hospital's stool sample examiner. (Of all the jobs in a hospital, why...? Don't ask.)
There are subplots here as well. Chief among them: Wixom's dream of escaping the hospital's basement and making a movie about African Americans; the harebrained adventures of the two FBI agents (Leslie Farrell and Jason Nuzzo) who have been snooping around the hospital since the President arrived; and the tumor's rather benign notions of manifest destiny.
Parks writes in a range that extends from cynical to sardonic, from silly to corny, and from hackneyed to clever as hell. Somehow, he reins it all in just enough to keep it from ever careening out of control. John Clancy then whips Parks's cavalcade of scenes into an unapologetic frenzy, depriving the audience of enough time to give anything more attention than it deserves. A trio of rolling hospital curtains (shades of Wit) are choreographed to give each scene its sharp start and stop. Despite a few stumbles. the energetic cast does a good job of keeping up.
It will probably come as no surprise that President Novi is indeed a goner. But his path to heaven is filled with surprises, not the least of which is Abraham Lincoln (James Cleveland) in a role somewhere between St. Peter and Fantine