Can I Help You?
nytheatre.com review by Amber Gallery
July 17, 2008
Exploding Moment's newest project, Can I Help You?, despite a few shortcomings, does one very important thing. It proves that with enough imagination and talent, practically anything is translatable to the stage. In this era of home theatre systems, blockbusters, and reality TV, this is no small feat and a noble one at that. Who would think that reality television could be performed in a small black box theatre? It lies even more outside the realm to assume that a show set in the trauma unit of a hospital could come across in such a setting, but director Catherine Dill and her team make it work.
This smart production manages to take the audience on a more challenging journey than your typical reality show by exposing the nuts and bolts of it. Like any play performed in such a space, there are no cuts to commercial, editing of undesirable material, nor the comfort of removing yourself from what you're seeing by not having to witness it live in the same room. And as an added bonus, the play succeeds at poking fun at the genre when placing it in this setting.
The script of Can I Help You? is the video transcript of a medical reality TV show. A "transcriber" dictates the action on stage over a microphone, while typing on a laptop. There are two monitors on either side of the playing area, hooked into two handheld cameras that the actors utilize to film each other or themselves. All this gives the feel of being on set—the ability to watch the monitors while also seeing the action and people live at the same time.
Dan Gray's video system is key to the production and well done, mostly. We see color video for all interviews and live scene footage, while there is a grainier, black and white for the cameras used in the operating room. Particularly noteworthy is how the graphic nature of the surgery is handled with the system. Also, there are some still shots and some previously recorded video used to accompany some of the action on stage. All of this works, but there were some lighting issues with some of the live footage, and in most cases the actors being filmed were not visible on the monitors, which were already on the small side. Although you can simply watch the live action in these cases, it would have been more interesting to watch the video of it simultaneously.
Four actors play multiple roles in the show. The main characters are a male resident, a female nurse who is seemingly the one in charge, the interviewer, and an unruly patient named Lisa Campbell, the origin of her injuries unclear to even her. Sprinkled in are other trauma patients, a couple of medical students, and a cocky radiologist. All of the cast members are talented and dedicated performers and they move together like clockwork through the multiple scenes, cuts, rewinds, fast forwards, and pauses employed by the transcriber. All have standout moments as individual performers, while also working wonderfully as an ensemble.
Dill and her team of actors never fail to command the humor of the piece. Dill uses every opportunity to the best advantage to poke fun at the irony of "off the cuff" interviews and the politics of a hospital staff, or at the naiveté of young medical students. Katherine Sullivan's pauses and interjections as the transcriber are well-timed and true. Johnny Lops brings a tremendous amount of humanity to the resident in blue scrubs who is awkward in front of a camera. Shea Elmore's monologue, a translation of a pre-videoed interview about a man who saw his friend get hit by a car, is the most moving sequence in the play. Sharla Meese and Katherine Wessling are dynamic and talented actresses who make us really care about their characters.
All in all, despite some technical problems and one or two clunky sequences, Dill puts together a dynamic production that will challenge anyone who sees it.