nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
July 15, 2005
There’s some seriously well-funded weirdness going down at the Axis Theatre. Highly produced high art drenches the bare, semi-circular stage with multimedia, genre-bending abandon. If you’re feeling gripped by a whimsical mood for a short and funny eyeful of surrealism and don’t mind having to come back three times to get the whole story then Hospital 2005 is the answer to your whim.
Hospital is an annual series that explores the far reaches of the mind through the mind’s eye of a man in a terminal coma. The trigger for his coma is different each year. This year he has contracted Virus H5N1, a.k.a. Avian Flu, and has fallen into his coma/state-of-being after coughing all over his Super who was fixing his sink at the time of his collapse, sending them both to the CDC’s quarantined facility. This opening exposition is delivered via short film, the first of two excellent shorts created by Dan Hersey.
After the film, the Traveler, as the man in the coma is known, takes the stage with his Super (or “Sickmate,” as he is listed in the program), and they take turns denying that they are sick to the point of exhaustion (for the audience not the actors). The next scene is like an absurd vaudeville comedy duo between a doctor, who intentionally comes across like an actor playing a doctor, and a weird nurse with a bright orange cast on one hand, who randomly writes things down on a notepad pressed against her belly with her good hand.
The second short film is a somewhat funny non-sequitur about a nurse who wins the lottery. Afterwards, the Traveler returns, this time entering the highly stylized world of Kabuki theatre. This segment is the most interesting of the bunch. It mixes a parody of the world of Kabuki along with the already surreal world of the play to create a very effective (and rather hilarious) dream-state.
The producers state that each of Hospital's four 30-minute episodes can stand on its own, implying that if you’d like to drop in and catch only one or two you can still get a feeling of completion. I'm not sure I agree. I got the feeling of something that is just beginning, and considering that I saw the first episode that’s what I should feel. I think it takes seeing all the episodes to get the meaning of this show. For the most part, I walked away scratching my head not thinking about the dark corners of the mind but rather about the rad-red Dickies jumpers with the Axis logo on the back that the crew wears or how awesome the Kabuki costumes were. I’m sure there’s meaning embedded in the story but I couldn’t glean any from the 30 minutes I saw. However, I think for the price it’s worth it to check out the whole story. (At half price for students it’s a sweet deal).
Director Randy Sharp conducts her cast and design team with great skill. Her vision is clear and her style is equal parts experimentation and fun. Production designer Kate Aronson-Brown effectively mixes high technology with a starkly bare stage. David Zeffren’s lights are right on and Steve Fontaine’s sound design is lighthearted at times and at others kind of creepy, with the occasional twitter of a (potentially infected) bird in the background.
The cast is an excellent group of seasoned actors. There is not a weak link in the chain. Among my favorite performers are Laurie Kilmartin as the weird nurse with the cast on her arm, and her doctor partner Joe Fuer. But Margo Passalaqua as the Beautiful Wife Kaksiku made me laugh the most and I walked away doing my own impression of her character.
In the end, I believe that this year’s installment of Axis Company’s Hospital series is well worth a look. They are a very innovative troupe and their blending of high technology with high art makes a fascinating cocktail.