MPC’s production of The Waiting Room wrestles with a difficult script.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
There are times when a play comes along that focuses on important themes and handles them with clever theatricality, but for some reason simply fails to gel. Lisa Loomer’s The Waiting Room is one of those plays.
The central issue of Loomer’s play might be the criminal disregard by the male-dominated medical profession of women’s health issues. And yet, it isn’t really. Director Mickie A. Mosley says the play “is about women and their struggle to be ‘beautiful’ and all the obstacles along that path.” But that’s not it, either. Nor is it the ineffectiveness of the FDA, nor the towering greed of drug companies, though both of these issues are tackled as well.
Any of these themes would be worthy of exploration and inspection, but by trying to take all of them on, Loomer’s script never manages to give one its full attention, and ultimately, The Waiting Room lacks focus.
The play begins as three women meet in a doctor’s waiting room. One is a Chinese woman of the era of the Empire. Her bound feet are rotting and a toe has fallen off. She gets through her days with opium.
The second patient is a Victorian woman. Thanks to her quest for a sixteen-inch waist, she has brutally rearranged her internal organs—but this is not why she is waiting for the doctor. Rather, it is because her husband, a doctor himself, has diagnosed her as “hysterical” and sent her to a specialist for removal of her ovaries. “Hysterical” here means well-read, curious, desirous of a jot of self-determination. (If you have read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” you know this character.)
The third patient we meet is a contemporary woman whose attempt to achieve the Baywatch Bod has led her to every enhancement from nose job to leaky silicone breast implants. Thanks to the latter (or perhaps thanks to her family’s medical history, her job at a chemical plant, her beef-heavy diet, her alcohol consumption, or her smoking), she has developed breast cancer.
Circling around our three main characters are the male doctor the three women visit, the doctor’s Jamaican nurse, two loutish husbands, a spineless FDA representative, a crooked drug company executive, and assorted other satellites. (Time folds in on itself throughout the play, in an effective theatrical device that highlights the maxim “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”)
Mosley’s direction serves to expose the play’s flaws and obscure its few good attributes. She has directed the acting, for the most part, to be so broad that any sympathy one might feel for the characters is cut off before it is half formed. Though Loomer attempted to inject humor into her script, the breath of laughter is knocked out of the audience with the forced, sucker-punch delivery of the lines.
In the role of the Chinese patient named Forgiveness From Heaven, Mary Rigmaiden delivers an honest and unaffected performance that is a breath of fresh air. As the aptly named Victoria, Sue Fishkoff gets off to a forced start, then thankfully settles down into a sensitive portrayal of an intelligent, caring woman imprisoned by her time. She handles an awkwardly written transformation from repressed Victorian to self-help junkie with wit and style. Of the male actors, Andrew Schoneberg and Kevin Hanstick have some good moments when they allow themselves to be simple in their roles.
The Waiting Room raises some important issues which, sad to say, have not faded in the decade since it was written. Loomer, Mosley, and her cast should be appreciated for their attempt to keep these issues in the public eye.
The Waiting Room continues at MPC’s SRO/Studio Theater through Feb. 22. 646-4213 or ticketguys.com.