A Very Common Procedure
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
February 12, 2007
Courtney Baron has hit the nail on the head while simultaneously knocking down the fourth wall in her new and courageous drama, A Very Common Procedure. She tackles a subject of extraordinary difficulty with humor, humanity, and heartfelt honesty. The superb cast and excellent direction make this a must see for those seeking drama that comes close to perfect.
It is a story about the heart: the tentative heart, the passionate heart, the literal heart and how it works, and the broken heart and various attempts to heal it. Telling the story is a young married couple, Carolyn and Michael Goldenhersch, who discover she is expecting a baby. They are quickly caught up in the concept of parenthood, adulthood, and a passion that comes from sharing very personal experiences. Eight months into her pregnancy Carolyn's water breaks unexpectedly and her baby is delivered prematurely. In steps Dr. Anil Patel to perform a catheterization (his first) on an embolism that has developed in the baby's heart. He explains that catheterization is a very common procedure. The emotional spiral pulls Carolyn to Dr. Patel to learn more about the workings of the heart, and subsequently she begins an affair with him. The result is heartbreaking for all three characters.
Rather than sucking the audience dry with tears, Baron takes the high road. Her characters address the audience, revealing themselves in unexpected ways. Seamlessly, they withdraw from us and engage with each other in a disagreement or a passionate embrace. Rarely during this tragedy is the audience given time to weep or think too much about the action at hand; it is imperative to keep up with the events as they are explained to us by Carolyn, Michael, and Dr. Patel, all swinging from character-as-narrator to character-in-the-play in less than a heartbeat. This seems increasingly impossible as the psychological and emotional stakes rise. But, the cast never wavers. Lynn Collins, who easily wins the audience early on, brings great depth and near clinical darkness to Carolyn's behavior. Stephen Kunken as Michael tells the audience at the start, "I'm always right"—a set-up for the change and helplessness he so aptly portrays. The doctor has several fine lines to walk: culturally, professionally, and romantically. Amir Arison brings distinction to the role of Dr. Patel by distinguishing between the American that he is and his Indian heritage, between his profession as doctor and his inexperience, between his role as responsible doctor and responsive lover.
As director, Michael Greif trawls for psychological detail and comes up with troves, further highlighting Baron's talent and eliciting from the actors a plethora of emotions that complicate an already tragic subject. What is there to say about Carolyn's line, "It is easier to miss you than to be in the same room"? Or how might you respond to Michael, who stops reading his beloved books, because he misses his wife, a nonreader? Do you seek an explanation of how the heart works to understand both the rational and irrational behavior? And, what of the time that stretches before these characters? It is to Greif's credit that the audience can sympathize with all three characters.
Set, lighting, costume, and sound add to the successful ensemble. Robin Vest's symmetrical, streamlined set connotes a sterile waiting room of a hospital, leaving all the emotional content up to the actors. Two chairs roll front stage to make for a quick change to the couple's home. Tyler Micoleau ups the lighting quotient, matching the pitch of the actors in both subtle and dramatic ways. The costumes by Miranda Hoffman are simple and appropriate. Fabian Obispo's music, too, is subtle—almost to the point of not hearing it—but you do, and it is insistent as in those small noises that remind you that this is a hospital waiting room.
MCC Theater's production of A Very Common Procedure is an opportunity to see a fine script, precise direction, and a terrific cast come together. The biggest tragedy is that the run is so brief.