Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Waiting Room
Also see Dean's review of Tuna Does Vegas
Why are these women waiting for the doctor? Wanda is having problems with her third set of breast implants, each set larger than the last. Victoria has been wearing her corset so tight that her organs have shifted. She has also been diagnosed with "hysteria," and how do you cure that? You cut out the causative organby doing a hysterectomy, of course. Forgiveness from Heaven has had her feet bound since childhood, and now some of her toes are getting gangrenous and falling off.
Obviously, one of the subjects of the play is the unnatural, even grotesque, things that have been done to women's bodies in order to make them more "attractive." That would make for an interesting enough play, but Loomer has a lot more on her mind: the deviousness of the pharmaceutical industry and its effort to quash alternative therapies, the complicity of the FDA, breast cancer, prostate cancer (for symmetry, I guess), women's submissiveness to their husbands, the beginnings of Freudian psychoanalysis, and more. The surprising thing is that, despite the heavy subject matter, the play is for the most part hilarious. Maybe Loomer tries to deal with too much for a normal-length play, but she knits it all up pretty well. The only threads left dangling are the prostate cancer story and what happens to Victoria and her husband.
In most plays, act one has a certain set and takes place in real time, act two maybe has a different set and takes place in real time, etc. The Waiting Room, however, is all over the place. There are scenes set in the waiting room, inside the doctor's office, in a sauna, on a golf course, in a bar ... and those are just some of the scenes set in America. It also jumps to 19th century England and 18th century China. It seems like it was written more for TV or the movies than for the theater, but this production triumphs over the inherent difficulties of staging it.
For this, all the people who you don't see on stage deserve a standing ovation: the director Becca Holmes; the set designer J. B. Tuttle; the lighting designer John Tomlinson (and Amy Bourque and Luis Ponce de Leon); sound designer Brent Stevens (I loved the use of "Someday My Prince Will Come," since Snow White is alluded to late in the playmaybe this was the director's idea); props manager Jessica Quindlen; costumers Paula Steinberg and Staci Robbins; and stage manager Julie Ball. They have managed to make the transitions between scenes almost seamless, and there is practically no dead air. The only thing that didn't work for me was a Keystone Kops-like scene with the surgeon, hospital orderlies, and three patients on stretchers. Fortunately, it is brief.
The cast is a Who's Who of Albuquerque theater, and everyone is at the top of their game. Kristin Hansen as Wanda seems like she can be from nowhere else but New Jersey (even though she isn't). She's funny, natural, sympathetic, and totally true to the character. Kate Costello is very good as Victoria, which I think is the hardest role to pull off here. A real find is Grace Lapsys, a relative newcomer to the theater scene, who perfectly embodies Forgiveness from Heaven. We need to see her on stage much more often. Angela Littleton amazingly plays seven roles, handling all sorts of accents with aplomb.
Nicholas Ballas has descended from Santa Fe to play the doctor, with intelligence, compassion, frazzledness, frustration, and feara very good performance. Bill Sterchi plays a bad guy pretending to be a good guy, and not many people can do this better than he. Peter Diseth doesn't have a big enough part, but he's very funny when we do get to see him. Eliot Stenzel is very natural as the FDA guy, and it's good to see Jimmy Ning on stage again after many years.
The whole thing comes together almost flawlessly and, again, congratulations to Becca Holmes. I don't know any other works by Lisa Loomer, but I am quite impressed by this play, and highly recommend it.
One last thing: there are a couple lines of Greek uttered by Victoria. I could only catch part of them, but "skata na fas" means "eat shit" (from which we get the English word "scatological"), and if you know that, it makes for a good laugh.
The Waiting Room by Lisa Loomer is being presented by Mother Road Theatre Company at the Filling Station through November 25, 2012. Info at motherroad.org or 505-243-0596.