nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
October 12, 2006
I'm not entirely sure what to make of Sam Forman's expressionistic Krankenhaus Blues. The play, switching between monologues and short scenes, attacks a variety of issues, mainly focusing on alienation and loneliness. The world in which the action takes place is a prison cell, home to three lost souls. That prison seems to be located in an amalgam of Nazi Germany and present-day America, but the exact wheres and whys of what is happening don't seem to be really important. What is important are the three very strong performances, and the occasional bits of brilliance that burst out of Forman's sometimes trying script.
The show begins with the sound of a violin (the music is composed and performed wonderfully by Helen Yee), which leads into a song sung by Anka (Christine Bruno), who performs in a straight jacket. Fritz (Joe Sims) is listening as he puts a few finishing touches on his makeup (he wears red and white painted circles over his face). They have a brief conversation mixing the terrible (a young girl died) with the inane (they really want some pretzel sticks).
Our focus then shifts to Bruno (Bill Green) delivering a long monologue about how he came to be imprisoned in this sanitarium. The locations in his life do not remain consistent (at one point he lives in Berlin, at another he talks about waking up on a bench in Tompkins Square Park). The play pretty much proceeds from here in this fashion, with short scenes giving way to monologues. Characters discuss their loneliness and feelings of disconnect, as well as their sex lives. Bruno develops an attraction to Anka, and they discuss whether it is real or not. A nurse enters. No real story ever develops, but many of the scenes are interesting and well constructed (particularly Bruno's monologue about working in a cheese shop and the beginnings of his nervous breakdown).
All three actors are excellent. As Bruno, Bill Green has the most to work with, and he does a wonderful job keeping some very long monologues exciting and interesting. Christine Bruno effectively switches from petulant to vulnerable, and has a beautiful singing voice. Joe Sims is given the least to work with as Fritz (his long story about a man who is gradually dismembered has little real impact) but his presence is strong.
Actors Joe Sims and Christine Bruno are both disabled, and this is written into the script, but I'm not sure what larger purpose it served. To be honest, the first time it came up in dialogue ("I'm obviously disabled"), I hadn't noticed yet.
Director Donna Mitchell keeps the play moving, but I think she would have been well-served to follow the instincts some actors had towards taking the play in a more confrontational, direct-address direction. The actors are speaking about the alienation and pain of modern life, and the play's scattershot approach might be more effective if we were more directly involved.
Forman is obviously talented, but those with low tolerance for a lack of structure will not enjoy this piece. Forman himself has written the clearest response I could have to Krankenhaus Blues, as spoken by Fritz: "I think you're articulate. Some people might say you're a little pretentious. But you never run outta stuff to talk about."