Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The House Not Touched by Death"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark


"The House Not Touched by Death"

by Janna Goodwin
Music by Janna Goodwin & Jesse Manno
Directed by Kim Mancuso Musical Direction by Katherine Dowd

Lighting Design by Sabrina Hamilton

Doctor Valiance...............................................................Court Dorsey
Nurse/Urman..........................................................Kermit Dunkelberg
Katie Fino..........................................................................Julie Nelson
Louis/Marek/Receptionist...............................................Chris Crowley
Ilyana Divic/The Announcer...........................................Susan Thompson
Washington/Musician.........................................................Katie Down
Henderson/Musician............................................. Michael McLaughlin
Jesse/Rodriguez...............................................................Monica Gomi

I am tempted to say that Pilgrim Theatre believes everything is holy, but nothing's sacred. I mean, the "work in progress" they're currently engaged in is an uproariously funny show about dying, for which their research took them to health care providers, hospice nurses and administrators, the terminally ill and the aged. Everything I saw flowed easily and inevitably from idea to idea, and yet I have the impression that both the company and Janna Goodwin who wrote it believe the script is a mere blueprint to be reconstructed every evening.
And it's a lot like life that way, isn't it?

In form, "The House Not Touched by Death" is indeed "a radio play with music" for which actors, a pair of hospital-curtains that can mask some or all of the playing area, props and dozens of exotic and occasionally electronic music or sound producers, and a lot of quick, specific mime illuminate the text while giving the eyes something to do. This is a play in which the proud, dashing doctor gallops in and out, too quick to get his patient's name right, and battles disease and death with sabre (Hear that Zingggg as he whips it unseen from its scabbard?) and stethoscope even when the chart specifically says "No resuscitation." "I bring life into this world," he modestly eulogizes, "and reluctantly let it out again only after a fight!"

His first patient is a woman of ninety who dances to an imaginary Balkan-bagpipe player ("Sometimes," her daughter confides, "I like to put my ear up against her head to hear; listen: he's pretty good, isn't he?") and is tired enough to let her body die (Horrors!) when it wants to. His second is a young man who, hearing a diagnosis of AIDS, proceeds to fly off like an angry gnat into the top of the atrium and refuses to come down. And both of them and their others, significant or not, seem at war with the nurses and receptionists and form-filler-outers who Are Only Doing Their Jobs, aren't they? Aren't they??

Of course, the doctor's ultimate nemesis is an unctuous accountant who has him slave to a keypad and a computer that "suggests" therapies approved by the HMO for their efficacy --- and their thrift. Shorn of horse and sabre and nurse and intern-acolytes and all but stethoscope, he is in no shape to be civil when patients bring up that ridiculous word --- "Compassion!"

There are parts of this show that Bertolt Brecht would envy, flights of mis-garbled medical jargon gone awry, songs, fables, feats of physical dexterity and mesmerizing flights of fancy. Yet always, under the frivolity and satire, throbs the heartbeat-message that no house, no human lives untouched by death --- other's or one's own. It is a part of life, a fact of life that makes living more alive. And all that laughter serves to make acceptance of both life and its end more liveably comprehensible. For the Pilgrim Theatre, even death is holy --- and nothing ever is, thank God, sacred.

"From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
that dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea."
That's Algie Swinburne, and not very funny, but somehow I think appropriate. The Pilgrim Theatre is much more modern, much less lugubrious, but they and Janna Goodwin and old Algie in their own ways have the right idea. He that pays this year is quit for the next.

Love,
===Anon.


"The House Not Touched by Death" (till 1 July)
PILGRIM THEATRE
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617) 426-2787

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