Posted by: strugglesome | September 25, 2011

Experimental Physics: Aggrocrag’s A Series Of Tests

Call it our collective fascination with gore, or the delight of seeing dreamy dreamy Partick Dempsey be gainfully employed, but medical procedural seem to be having a heyday in modern society. Be they comedic or serious, stark or soapy, people love shows about hospitals just as much as they hate hospitals themselves. And let’s be honest, here, who actually likes hospitals? Even doctors don’t like hospitals. Hospitals are not happy places. It’s no wonder that Simon, the central figure/patient in Aggrocrag’s latest offering, A Series Of Tests, directed by Jon Herman, hates hospitals, and doesn’t want to be ending his life in one. Who would? But that’s the beauty of the Teddy Mendela center, you see. It’s not a hospital, no, nothing so distasteful, it’s a treatment center, a place where healing happens, “They Do It Different”. So what if they are bankrupt. So what if they are spoken of badly. They heal diseases, dammit, They get results. And if those results come at the costs of a human life? Well, screw it, it’s a small price to pay. Or is it?

One of the many arguments against the United States medical system is that it treats illnesses rather than patients. Certainly that’s Simon’s (a sweet and empathetic Max Reuben) experience. Diagnosed with Constons Disease (that may or may not be spelled correctly, I’m not an expert on made-up illnesses) and facing a certain future of imminent death, he passes out in a public place and wakes up in the hilariously creepy clinic (set design by Katie White)  of one Dr. Teddy Mandela (a maniacal and magnificent role Andrew Farmer was born to play). And if Mandela’s gosh-gee accent and penetrative stare (no one stares like Farmer) aren’t enough to convince Simon that he should forgo regular hospital treatment and trust in the experimental options of the Mandela Center, then at the very least the wry nurse Nora (the calm and collected Jenny Donheiser) ought to be able to persuade him. After all, that seems to be a big part of her job. And so Simon commits to the experiments of the brilliant but socially awkward Dr. Daniel Drake (a rather subdued Alex Fast) and even submits to the strange and creepy observations of the orderlies/lab assistants Devon (an appropriately awkward Tim Chawaga) and Devin (a wild-eyed and eager Anna Elliott). But what does the Mandela Center really care about, curing Simon, or curing the disease?

Well, as it turns out, Dr. Mandela himself, all fake smiles and hold-on-there-hoss attitude, has goals that do not quite line up with those of his star physician. And while sad-sack Simon mourns the fact that no one seems to care about him, all around him important moral choices are happening. Jenny, who likes the failing clinic’s sole patient a bit more than she should, is conflicted between wanting to actually connect with him and remembering that this is a job. Dr. Drake, whose back-story is hinted out but could use some fleshing out, wants to heal his patient and find out more about the disease, but Mandela, well, he’s just there for the awards. And Devin and Devon, will they be more swayed by ambition than humanity, working this hard to earn their scrubs (costumes by Stephanie Levin)? The answer is, sadly for Simon, yes, and he becomes just another sacrifice on the altar of knowledge, trapped, in the end, within the prison of his own brain.

But how much sympathy do we really have for this character? After all, Simon chose to be alone, he cut himself off from humanity. He has no friends, no family, no job (one wonders how he can afford an expensive private clinic) and he rejects all attempts at comfort. Dr. Drake’s fairly unscientific tests and gifts of dead mummies (he’s also an amateur experimental Egyptologist, like you do) don’t seem to be doing very much, and Simon isn’t particularly amused (which is understandable) by the Devin/Devon team. And because we don’t get a lot of information about this space and this world, we aren’t really is this is a PSA, an infomercial or a beautiful story about figuring out life in the face of death. Maybe it’s all three. But if we knew more about each of these characters, if they felt more like complete personalities, we might be able to better connect with Simon and his lonely pain. And we aren’t really aided by the fact the fact that the piece moves from primarily realistic to metaphoric about halfway through the piece, delving into Simon’s string covered maze of a mind, which creates gorgeous images but no explanations. So we are left with strings connecting one image or idea to the next, tenuous, obviously in existence, but weak. It’s beautiful to watch,but it doesn’t really feel like a whole piece of theater quite yet. But that’s the brain for you, you never know quite what it’s thinking.

Aggrocrag‘s production of A Series of Tests is over, but you can find out more about the company here!.

Comments? Questions? Arguments? I welcome them all! Please feel free to comment!

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