The difficulty with a play about a specific issue is separating the issue from the play. Can the author find a way to make his important points while still allowing the audience to care about the characters and their plights without resorting to facts, statistics, or platitudes to do the job for him? In the case of Rick Schweikert's un becoming, the answer is a solid no.
This play, which just opened at the 45th Street Theatre with direction by Schweikert Jeffrey Edward Carpenter, is nothing if not well-intentioned. Its particular issue is that of unnecessary hysterectomies (the surgical removal of a woman's uterus) and the deleterious effects they have on women and their families. But while educating people of both sexes about this subject is a noble goal, it's handled here with almost no subtlety or dramatic care.
In the most basic issue play about unnecessary hysterectomies, what characters would there have to be? A central woman? Yes, she's Emma Douglas (Laura Flanagan), an artist of burgeoning popularity on the verge of having possibly life-altering surgery. Insensitive husband? Check; David McCamish plays him, named Sam. An overly wise artist friend for Emma? Yep, Jeffrey Edward Carpenter is John, a sculptor with an innate distrust for modern medicine. Thoughtless, impatient male doctor treating Emma? That would be Benjamin James Moore as Dr. James Ridge. Sexless female doctor who accepts his behavior without question? Dr. Rose Parker played by Brigitte Viellieu-Davis. Another woman who's the victim of the male doctor's overeagerness? That's Namoi Barr's role.
To be fair, Schweikert does throw in a couple of twists:. Emma is having an affair with John, Sam (also a doctor) is having an affair with Rose, and James's wife (Tami Dixon) and daughter (Sage Fitzgerald) make an appearance, apparently Schweikert's attempt to provide some additional facets for the character.
But he doesn't qo quite far enough - James is a heavy drinker, plays golf on Saturdays, and just can't wait to rip out Anna's sex organs, even moving the surgery up to better fit with his schedule. He even has the play's climactic (and most groan-worthy) line, when referring to Anna's uterus: "It's nothing but a baby bag!" Are there really doctors who feel that way? I'm not qualified to say one way or another. And while Moore's stilted performance doesn't really help matters any, his callousness and disregard for his patient's well-being is so total that credibility is stretched to - and beyond - the breaking point.
Even if there are doctors who feel this way, Schweikert's responsibility, even in an issue play, involves, at least in part, making them credible onstage. Though few of the other characters are fleshed out to any great degree, the others are all believable as people. Flanagan and Carpenter give the most natural performances, but the quiet pain and determination that the excellent Dixon exhibits lends even more weight to the play, at least until the final scene when - directly addressing the audience - she becomes nothing more than Schweikert's mouthpiece.
Jorge Cousineau has created a remarkably effective set for the production: a rotating assemblage of pipes, doors, and other set pieces that can be reconfigured in any number of ways to suggest a large number of locales. The set's design is an excellent mixture of the artistic and the clinical; too bad the same can't be said for most of the rest of un becoming.
The Hers Foundation