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

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey

Exit Laughing

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

"The House Not Touched by Death" has a title which may remind you of the Angel of Death at the first Passover --- but this "House" is anything but ominous. It's actually a cautionary vaudeville written by Janna Goodwin (with music by Goodwin and Jesse Manno) and performed by the wizards of Pilgrim Research and Performance Collaborative. Seven actor/musicians romp non-stop through the nightmare that is our healthcare system, sending up egomaniacal doctors, sadistic nurses (Is there any other kind?) and greedy administrators. As the saying goes, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

The show is performed as a radio play, adding sheer delight off-stage to the delirium on stage, because we get to watch as the players create sound effects for, among other things, a sphygmomanometer, dripping water, or requisite hoofbeats...all created by mouth, by hand, or by kazoo, accordion, harmonium, dulcimer, rajok, doumbek, ukulele and vacuum cleaner...that is, when the instruments aren't being used for music. The songs they play (calypso, rap, ballad, march) are charming or silly or biting --- the most sardonic of which will make you think of Kurt Weill. Others just make you think.

Director Kim Mancuso's cast is simply phenomenal, seamlessly blending hijinks with high stakes --- for example when a doctor brandishing a sword refuses to let an elderly woman die a natural death. Julie Nelson gives an iridescent performance as this sweet grandmother called to rest by a benevolent bagpiper. (Mancuso's actors create characters without make-up and with only minimal suggestions of costume.)

Chris Crowley gives a powerful performance as a man whose dire diagnosis sends him onto the hospital roof. Mancuso perches him on the legs of an upturned table, and you believe with all your heart that he's teetering on the edge. Monica Gomi plays his frightened girlfriend (and other characters) with a graceful authority.

Kermit Dunkleberg is preposterously convincing as the (female) nurse, barking orders like an impatient Pomeranian. Court Dorsey gives a hilarious, edgy performance as the fictitious Dr. Valiance. (Not to be confused with the real Dr. Valiant: I wonder if he's been invited to see the show.)

Katie Down and Michael McLaughlin play the lion's share of the (ethnic) instruments as well as fledgling doctors learning the art of bad bedside behavior. Pilgrim cleverly uses humor to penetrate the heart and prick the conscience...which we all know is the best medicine of all.

So breathe deeply and LAUGH

"Bye Bye Birdie" (till 17 June)
Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide