I am loving all this local playwright attention! My only concern: Why is ALL OF IT in the summer? Consent is the new play that opened this week at Spotlighters Theatre. Written by Glennyce Lynn and a part of the Baltimore Playwright’s Festival, it is a controversial look at patient consent in a slightly sci-fi futuristic lab. Lynn definitely is a reader, this is ripe with allusions to classic pieces but still feels fresh.
Entering the theater there is man hooked to a ventilator, with whizzes and buzzes of a hospital setting. And he is just, well, laying there while you enter and wait. I remember thinking, this isn’t going to move when Fuzz does the curtain speech- and it didn’t. But they did stifle the breathing sound effects and beeps and focus the light on Fuzz, so it was not as bad as I thought.
The man in the respirator is Patient 37. He has donated himself to science and has agreed to scientific experiments in order to provide for his family. The doctors, Tina James as “Gert”, and McKinley Wallace, III as “Dani”, are there to get his signature, eh em, consent to more testing. There is a kind of game show esque quality in stating “behind door number one- we will do this to you…” Each option has a payout to the family for his cooperation in the study. The two doctors argue over their own personal squabbles while mostly ignoring the patient. When the facility goes on lock down due to riots, they must decide whether to continue or save themselves. Both are not supposed to become personally attached to the patient, but can’t help but include him when they are forced into a confined situation.
Dr. Daniel Frederick, AKA “Dani”, is played by McKinley Wallace III. His entrance is full of piss and vinegar with at least twenty f-bombs. I am not a prude and love yelling obscenities as much as the next gal, but I felt it was a little overdone. He appears jaded, flustered, and does a nice job of appearing at ends with his life- personally and professionally. It is an odd role to play, because for all of his bitching and complaining and fighting, he is the one that breaks protocol and shows compassion to the patient. He violates several rules before the show is out but is also the character that simultaneously calls the patient a “dumbshit from a farm” and holds his hand when needed. Perhaps the tough guy machismo could break a little more.
Dr. Gertrude Berringer, AKA “Gert” is the first doctor on the scene. She is professional to a fault. Stoic and somewhat emotionless, she cares for the patient with detachment and a clinical calm. Although she recites the Hippocratic oath at one point and promises to uphold all the things she is kind of going against here, she is meticulous in her pursuit of prescribed protocol. When the “little sister” (i.e. Big Brother from 1984) demands retribution, she is all too willing to be the instrument of it.
And then there’s patient 37, Brandon Richards, who gets to lay in a respirator and mumble for the first twenty minutes or so (including the pre-show). But in sincerity, he does a nice job of acting the part. And that part is a man trapped by his own demons and inner-conscious. He wants to provide for his family, and this is the only way he can do it. By being a test rat, in a lab (a la Flowers for Algernon- the Algernon project- I said the author was a lit nerd like me). As the cover asks, “is informed consent still consent? If all you’ve done is make it impossible to say no…” especially when being played a tape of his parents thanking him for his contribution. His outbursts are well-timed, and his outrage and head shaking do little to quench his disgust for his situation.
The lights and sound are pretty straight forward. The only thing about Spotlighters is to judge where you sit when entering. I sat near a pillar (and I know better damn it) and missed some of the best scenes because of obstructions. My date happily filled me in with the obstructed view storyline, probably to the chagrin of the patrons behind me.
It is awesome to see new work come alive on the Baltimore stages! Even if it all saved for summer…
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go, always go see new work. We keep telling you and maybe you’ll listen- you can’t tote being in on the newest trend unless you witness the newest things! Glennyce Lynn has created a captivating story with lots of questions and allusions, and the cast has brought it to life with vigor. Go check this out and discuss over a pint at your favorite watering hole. (I)
Running through August 26th at Spotlighters Theatre. Running time about 90 minutes with no intermission.