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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Not God: Not Bad, Not Good

Also see Bob's review of One Good Marriage

I admire oncologist Marc J. Straus and his gracefully written Not God. However, the quiet twin soliloquies which constitute this work are better suited to the printed page than they are to the theatre. The setting is a hospital over a period of several weeks. The two characters are a male oncologist and a dying female cancer patient. For the most part, the two alternate their soliloquies which are written in verse. The characters are identified only as The Doctor and The Patient. Although they both speak of private lives outside of the hospital (which include commonalities in their life histories), their soliloquies are largely about their hospital experiences.

The doctor is in late middle-age. His soliloquies have the ring of passion and honesty. This prevents them from feeling generic, even though his thoughts are likely not atypical among oncologists. Even when he is able to help his patients, the doctor finds that his strength "lessens and lessens." He depressively observes that, after thirty years, what he is proficient at is being able to see death—"progressive and irreversible"—in a patient. He is saddened by the pain which his treatment causes and prays for a cure. Even the nomenclature of his specialty depresses him.

The patient, who is of the same generation as the doctor and has a similar background, observes the death of other patients and speaks of getting sicker and sicker, her painful treatments, and of wanting no further treatment. Having to be fed with a straw evokes childhood memories at a bungalow colony (which in turn evokes similar memories within the doctor).

Tuck Milligan imbues The Doctor with a sense of an inner life. He conveys a sense of gravity, quiet authority and deep sincerity which lend exceptional credence to his doctor. Carol Lempert expertly plays The Patient with carefully modulated verisimilitude. Director Nancy Robillard has tried to liven things up by providing some digital effects to bring a bit of extra life to the proceeding.

The interesting and effective hospital set by Paul Clay incorporates digital projection with displays of modern medical technology, and artistic representations such as a large cluster of intravenous fluid bags hanging over a stage extension set to the front and side of the main staging area.

There is a brief scene which portrays the joyous rebirth of The Patient after her physical demise. While such scenes can be dramatically effective and inspirational, here it is shoehorned in and out of kilter with the rest of the work. The balance of the writing is rich in imagery and literary worth.

Literary quality not withstanding, Not God makes for a languorous theatrical experience. Add the oppressively hot temperature at the performance reviewed, and upwards of half of the audience had dozed off throughout the performance. Not being immune to heat fatigue myself, I have made some allowance here for the effects of the excessively high temperature.

Not God continues performances (Evening: Thursday 7:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 8 p.m./ Matinees Sun. 2 p.m.) through May 17, 2009 at Luna Stage, 695 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, N.J., 07042. Box Office: 973-744-3309; online: www.lunastage.org.

Not God by Marc J. Straus; directed by Nancy Robillard

Cast
Patient………..Carol Lempert
Doctor………….Tuck Milligan


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- Bob Rendell



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