nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 11, 2009
Episode 4 (reviewed July 23, 2009)
The final segment of Hospital 2009 is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful evenings of theatre in recent memory. Creator/director Randy Sharp and her extraordinary team of collaborators have given us a play that not only closes out this four-part serial thoughtfully and satisfyingly, but also serves as a monumentally moving summing up of the themes we've been following during the past two months.
If you've been faithfully watching Hospital 2009 but haven't yet seen the conclusion, stop reading this and go see it. There are a few spoilers ahead.
As I surmised during Episode 3, the Traveller is not who we originally thought he was: it turns out that the man in the coma who has been the protagonist of the surreal journey of Hospital 2009 is a guy in an apartment who has overdosed on drugs. His subconscious, unwilling or unable to accept what's happening to him, has done some colossal imaginative transference—the adventures of the "Traveller" in Episodes 1 through 3 turn out to be projections, in which the real Traveller has turned his best friend Henry into an astronaut who ventured into his spaceship's escape hatch one time too many.
The hospital sequence in the center of this episode features a reunion of just about all of the doctors and nurses who have ever graced this imaginary place of (no) healing. Sandy, the heroic nurse who always reminds the doctors that they need to be taking care of "that guy," has a beautiful monologue here explaining what a hospital is supposed to be that mirrors the anxieties and truths of the play's main character in stunning fashion. Laurie Kilmartin, as ever, is breathtakingly good in the role. David Crabb as the wildly disturbed Research Physician is also outstanding; I understood in a new way how his role is a projection of the Traveller within the zany, surreal world of the hospital segments.
While I'm on the subject of actors, let me mention that Brian Barnhart, now identified in the program as the Traveller, is once again the strong anchor of the play. Cameos by Axis regulars like Edgar Oliver, Joe Fuer, and Jim Sterling bolster the already magnificent ensemble that's been assembled for Hospital 2009. And special nods are needed for Sharp's music and choreography, Steve Fontaine's sound/music design, and David Zeffren's remarkably effective lighting.
The final part of the play is that summation I told you about. If last year's Hospital was about valuing every moment you have to spend alive on Earth, this year's is a celebration of friendship. In the final analysis, it asks, is anything that we leave behind more important than the people who care for us?
Episode 3 (reviewed July 9, 2009)
Episode 3 of Hospital 2009 is fantastic! If you've been following this year's serial but haven't yet taken in this installment, you don't want to miss it: much is revealed, and in the course of divulging a lot of surprising information, the Axis Company reaches new heights of zaniness, satirical punch, and emotional heft. If you haven't ventured to Hospital 2009 thus far, then you should: I think you'll be able to figure out what's going on, even jumping in at this point. And the promise of the finish to come in Week 4 is thrilling and tantalizing.
I don't want to give too much away here. Suffice to say that the Traveller's real location is clarified; indeed, the whole notion of what's "real" for the Traveller is the main idea of this Episode, especially its final scene, in which the Traveller and a "Control" named Tyrell take a test in order to determine whether they are real. Mind-blowing stuff, this, but not as mind-blowing as the middle segment, set in the "hospital," in which the Research Physician is reunited with the Specialist (from "Engerland," familiar to folks who saw last year's Hospital) and the nurse Sandy. They're going home (i.e., to the "hospital") in a parallel journey to the Traveller's, I think. Something feels valedictory here.
Have I mentioned that the design of Hospital 2009, though spare and stark, is marvelous? The set is uncredited: it's a semi-circular cavern or tunnel-like structure, bounded at either end by brightly lit doors that look like Hollywood ideas of UFO portals but are almost certainly gateways to the Beyond. The lighting defines location and mood here; it's designed by David Zeffren and in each episode has yielded at least one startling effect. The cinematography by Ben Wolf is eerie and spellbinding, especially the opening montage that tricks us so that we aren't sure what's "real" or not within the world of the play to come.
The large cast is superb. Newcomers this week include Jack Perry, Lisa Hickman, and Paul Marc Barnes, the latter as the Specialist but costumed as the lead in a touring company of Godspell. Laurie Kilmartin (Sandy) is, as always, riveting, and David Crabb delivers a tour de force as the Research Physician, mashing up Blanche DuBois and Scarlett O'Hara with his character hilariously yet somehow organically. Blake DeLong continues strong as the Traveller, and Brian Barnhart's guise this week is the man called Tyrell—but I think I know who he really is now.
Oh, and there's a big musical number in the middle of everything.
Episode 2 (reviewed July 2, 2009)
Episode 2 of Hospital 2009 is terrifically funny and exciting—I'm not at all surprised but very gratified to tell you that I'm totally hooked and ready for what's coming up in the next two episodes.
Our protagonist ("Traveller," as he's billed in the program) is stuck somewhere in outer space and trying his darnedest to make sense of increasingly bewildering events that are just beginning to point to the (probably fatal) trouble that he's in. His fellow astronauts Kraft and White are fixated on reviewing some slides that they found in the spaceship (rather than trying to get help or restore power). The doctors he's conjuring (in the hospital scene) are useless—executing darkly hilarious slapstick rather than focusing on making anybody well. And the figures he meets in the final segment of the play, who are probably illusions created by his fertile imagination, are a pair of men organizing an "exchange" with a UFO.
So the narrative threads are still fuzzy, but the mood is chaotic and antic: our Traveller is nowhere near acceptance of his fate at this point in the story.
The large cast is terrific, anchored by Blake DeLong as the Traveller and Britt Genelin and Marc Palmieri as his concerned colleagues. David Crabb continues to astonish as the hyper Research Physician; he's joined this week by Tom Pennacchini as Doctor #3 (Nurse Sandy is gone) and a Service Animal portrayed with deadpan accuracy by Edward Terhune. Spencer Aste and Brian Sloan (billed simply as "A Guy" and "Another Guy" bring manic energy to the final scene of this episode, while Brian Barnhart, as one of the humans involved in the proposed UFO exchange, brings calm to the piece at its end, no doubt portending revelations to come next week.
Episode 1 (reviewed June 11, 2009)
Hospital is back for the tenth time at Axis Company. I got hooked on this annual four-part theatrical serial last year (Hospital 2008; I liked it so much I published it in Plays and Playwrights 2009). After seeing the exciting and enticing opener to this season's edition, I can tell you that it's the same as last year's and also that it's entirely different. I can't wait for Episode 2.
Before I go any further, I probably need to tell you how Hospital works. It's the story of a man in a coma, told in four installments (each roughly 40 minutes long), which are presented successively over the course of two months. (Episode 2 will run June 25 - July 3, Episode 3 will run July 9 - 18, and Episode 4 will run July 23 - 25.) Each of the episodes is itself in four parts: a filmed prologue sets up the inciting incident of the serial (in this case, an astronaut, sometime in the future, is trapped alone in a spaceship that has disengaged from its mother ship); and then three scenes reveal different aspects of this Traveller's journey, through his (un)consciousness, toward (presumably, possibly) death. These three scenes are arranged in a rigorous format, as you'll understand if you see more than one Hospital: a scene that's "real," depicting the events of the accident; a surreal scene in a "hospital," in which a bumbling staff (here, a Research Physician and a Nurse named Sandy) try to figure out where they are and what they're supposed to be doing (these characters recur year after year); and finally a dreamscape, where the Traveller encounters unexpected characters who are helping him understand what's happening to him, albeit in oblique and odd ways.
So that's how Hospital 2009 is the same as its predecessors. The fun, of course, comes in the astonishingly inventive ways that director/conceiver Randy Sharp bends the formula each year. The astronaut setting of this story turns the show into a sci-fi spectacular. The production design is suitably a kind of a sensory overload: the set is simple enough (evocatively outfitted with NASA-like emblems) while the costumes by Elisa Santiago are vintage Star Trek/Lost in Space space suits. Steve Fontaine's sound and David Zeffren's lights are thrillingly evocative. Uncredited special effects are particularly impressive—for me, the most memorable moments in Episode 1 came during a fast, scary, noisy high-tech gunfight involving the enigmatic (renegade?) crew of some unidentified craft and our hero, the Traveller.
The film work, in the prologue and also in the hospital sequence, is terrific, as expected. (Cinematography is by Ben Wolf; the editor is Margo Passalaqua.) A character named "The Star," portrayed by Passalaqua, figures in the filmed section of the hospital scene, adding a weird presence to the already hysterical (in both senses of the word) energy of the Research Physician (David Crabb) and Sandy (Laurie Kilmartin). The large cast also includes Brian Barnhart as a very human-looking and very calm android called The Bishop, Marc Palmieri and Britt Genelin as the Traveller's fellow astronauts, and Blake DeLong, very effective as the Traveller who, at this point, is not at all sure where he's going.
Of course, after Episode 1, neither are we, except in the broadest sense. One of the best aspects of Hospital is that it works just the way an old silent movie serial like "The Perils of Pauline" did, which is to say leaving the audience wanting more. Check out Episode 1 this week and then check back here in two weeks for a review of Episode 2.