Saturday, February 26, 2011

Off Broadway: Nursing (Part 3 of The Hallway Trilogy)

If it can be said that I was relatively unprepared for what confronted me in Paraffin, after having seen Rose (see yesterday's post), then it must be admitted that I was totally unprepared for Nursing, after having seen both Rose and Paraffin. In Paraffin, Rapp pulled out all the stops, raised the stakes, and went all in (and, in my opinion, lost big as a result). But in Nursing, he completely jumped the shark.

Nursing is set in 2053 in a disease-free New York, by which time the tenement building has been converted into a museum where individuals in need of cash are injected with old-fashioned diseases to amuse the public. Lloyd (Logan Marshall-Green) has answered an advertisement to allow himself to be injected and to be exhibited to the public as a human exhibit in the “disease museum” so that they might follow the progress of the disease de jour as it ravages his body and brings him close to death. The plan is to allow the disease to advance not quite to the point of killing him, to cure him of it before he dies, to allow him to recover from its aftereffects, and then to start the process over again by injecting him with another disease in the series. Cholera. Black Plague. Whatever.

Lloyd’s motivations are somewhat unclear. He is a sometimes suicidal psychological casualty of the Afghan War (a tepid allusion, perhaps, to Lucas in Paraffin), who is visited by a journalist (Jeremy Strong), by his brother Joe (Robert Beitzel), and by Erin, his pregnant wife (Sarah Lemp). Lloyd’s relationship to his wife is never made completely clear but her pregnancy is perhaps intended to suggest some similarity to Margo’s plight and Margo’s relationship to her husband, Denny, in Paraffin). And his relationship to Joe does have some overtones of Lucas’ relationship to Denny and Margo in Paraffin (there is at least a suggestion of Lloyd’s having taken some interest in Joe’s wife).

Both of Lloyd’s nurses, Andy (Louis Cancelmi) and Joan (Maria Dizzia) are medically competent, but either or both may have hidden agendas of their own, of which we are at first unaware.

The other characters in the play are the museum guard (Stephen Tyrone Williams) and the Tour Guide (Sue Jean Kim). And it is Kim’s rendition of “Cholera Camp” by Rudyard Kipling that saved the day for me; I thought she was terrific and her recital was the only thing about this play that I truly enjoyed.

So what happens in the play. Well without going into gory details, there is a preposterous terrorist plot, lots of simulated sexual activity, too much nudity, and excessive violence. In short, take everything I didn’t like about Paraffin and double it. Now you’ve got it.

Nursing was directed by Trip Cullman who did as good a job as Rapp and Aukin did in directing Rose and Paraffin, respectively. I don’t think that the play’s failure was his fault at all. Nor do I think that the actors should be blamed for this: every member of the cast again turned in a first rate performance, most noteworthy among them this time being Sue Jean Kim as the Tour Guide. Beowulf Boritt also deserves credit for his effective conversion of his initial set to that of a museum display, while retaining the contours of his original tenement building.

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