Nurses In New England
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
July 29, 2010
I'm not sure of the exact date, but at some point in the not so distant past, television executives decided that the only workplaces worth creating shows about were police stations and hospitals. Of course, anyone who has spent much time in a hospital knows that life at County General more closely resembles the waiting games of Chekhov than the fast-paced, nerve-fraying workday of E.R. or Nurse Jackie. Lucky for audiences, Half Straddle isn't interested in showing the mundane reality of hospital life. Instead, Nurses in New England attempts to play on the main cliches, and especially the rapid-fire medical jargon, that has come to dominate this popular television genre. Just like on TV, CCs are ordered, egos clash, and romance teeters on the brink of something more. It's all fun to watch, even if Nurses lacks a real story for us to follow.
The setting of the play, smartly visualized for the stage by designers Andreea Mincic and Murphey Wilkins, is a small hospital in New England. The less populated locale provides little emergency action, leaving plenty of time and supplies to take patients in the form of marine life from the nearby beach. Even stranger than a lobster with "stage 2 dementia" is that the hospital is, from the front desk to the OR, run solely by nurses. The only doctor here is the chain smoking, coarse-mouthed Derek Shepherd, who's actually a nurse that everyone calls "doctor," but only when she's operating on a patient. Throw in Shepherd's former rival Nurse Lewis, a Fonzie-like EMT, and a greenhorn resident with a tape recorder diary and you've got a hospital I'd never want to see as a patient, but certainly enjoyed watching from the seats.
Nurses in New England works for a number of reasons. Most successful is the way in which playwright Tina Satter manages to create a smart, comic mirror of the medical show genre without every venturing into spoof. She does this by creating characters with distinct personalities, which differs from the broad strokes usually employed in genre sendups. These distinctions are further explored by the talented cast Satter has assembled. As Nurse Shepherd, Jess Barbagallo succeeds playing her character's rough edges and multiple vices against her own small stature and features. As the inexperienced but determined Faye Greenwall, Emily Davis is also great to watch, reminding us of Dorothy in Oz, only with career goals and a tape recorder instead of a little dog. Erin Markey, as the fast-talking, heart-of-gold EMT Abby Lockhart, is probably the crowd favorite, especially when she takes the microphone for an ecstatic love ballad, of which her pony-tail is the topic.
Where this larger-than-life play falls short, however, is in story. With the exception of EMT Abby and Nurse Lewis's blossoming love and the personal growth of Davis's Greenwall character, there is not much to follow in the way of plot, which leads to slow moments in an otherwise fast-paced show. Nurses has great characters played by talented actors, and Satter's genre-bending language, but without a real plot to grab onto, the audience is left in the waiting room, when where we really want to be is behind the nurses' station. Like it or not, medical shows are great at telling captivating stories. I just wish Satter would have tried to mirror this element as well.
Nurses in New England is a funny, charming show by a theatre company I want to see more of. It's missing a plot, but with this talented cast, creative language, and the music of Chris Giarmo, there is more than enough here to make for an enjoyable night at the theatre. Just don't get sick, as I'm sure most of the equipment on stage are really just props.