nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
October 6, 2011
Two sisters, the ugly sisters, the ones who didn’t get the prince—what happens to them after Cinderella disappears into the sunset with her prize? In the drug-and-sex-imagery-addled world of Miranda Huba’s Hospital City, fairy tales can take a hike as it appears these girls are headed for a darker future, trapped in a nightmare realm of electronics and emotions conveyed only within word patter. A piece populated by images both visual and verbal, Miranda Huba’s Hospital City has a certain distance to itself that allows for this abundance of impulses.
Beginning almost immediately after the other sister’s marriage to the prince, a sort of everywoman emcee Narrator (Kate Armstrong Ross) skillfully sets up where we begin by immediately disabusing any notion that the marriage to a prince (in this instance doctor) can possibly lead to a happy ending, especially when his ultimate goal is to sell her when done with her. In short order, the narrator introduces us to Mia and Mel as the sisters in question—think lower-income Kardashian sisters but with better verbal skills, and there they are in front of you. The elder, Mia (Joanne Wilson), has an instinctive knowledge that they need a change from their lives but unfortunately for them such a thought is also where her “smarts” end. Relentlessly she hounds her sister to the hospital, only to find that it will require weeks of selling themselves by the front gates to gain admittance, and then to a world in which pills replace money and patients must continue to earn their keep. Somehow one sister becomes a resident bar poet and the other a drug mule. As having jumped from one fire to another has not changed their existence for the better, they make plans for one last escape attempt after Mel (Lindsay Mack) commits an act of violence.
For most of the time within this netherworld hospital, a certain daily life is established in which the narrator as nurse, doctor, barkeep or pharmacist helps guide us through, or alternately Mia pulls it back to her voice and viewpoint. The voices changes frequently and while the overall “story” is clear, it is somewhat difficult to stay involved as the production frequently interrupts its own rhythm. There are humorous moments (Mel earnestly swearing that “I‘ve lost my virginity three times and this time I mean to keep it!”) when it feels that the desire is for the audience to laugh with the sisters, but the sisters return to a two-dimensional cipher-like existence almost immediately as the production swings back into a malevolent yet distancing tone. This tone involves a stream of violent images that become bloodless in their sheer repetition and lack of impact on the characters, but it is not clear whether the point is simply to make the violence a banal part of the world or if it is ever supposed to have any sort of impact. At such time the video design (James Daher and Lucia Jessun Lee) becomes a moving canvas at which to stare and consider what might be the intentions until the action engages again. It is interesting how much electronic visual imagery has become an element of theater, and not truly as scenery but as an active element to replace a lack of emotional activity. There are a lot of pithy lines and stark images floating above, and the conclusion of the piece seems to want the audience to be affected by the characters. It is a flat world that, although detailed, allows somewhat limited engagement. But it may be the production is still finding its way as there is patently a considerable amount of talent involved in Hospital City.
All three actors are strong, and their voices (well coached by Emily C. Walker) give fullness to the text that is appreciable. Individually all the elements are impressive, the costumes (Mia Bienovich) are simple but very successful in supporting transitions, the lighting (Tuce Yasak) and sound (Nathan Schwartz) define space and time well. With running, the production will strengthen and hopefully find its impact amongst its many targets.