Deathbed on Theatre Row

Production reviewed by Jen Forcino

Ripple Effect Artists presented Deathbed by Mark Schultz at the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row and I spent the whole 90 minutes wondering which was worse- the acting or the script. Many a brilliant author has tried to tackle the mystery of death and Shultz’s lofty, uneven play says nothing new or interesting on one of humanity’s deepest subjects.

The show is a collection of 5-7 minute scenes with a cast that seemed almost uncomfortable with the script. “I have cancer”. “I hate you”, “I love you”, were endlessly screamed during the show. There was little or no nuance to the production and with heavy topics such as alcoholism, cancer and abandonment, an audience should be enthralled- but we were lulled into mediocrity. At one point a gay character confesses his undying love for a ‘straight’ friend. That is a heavy confession, no? But the actors were so uncomfortable on stage (lots of moments with arms crossed over their chests) that the whole scene seemed almost laughable.

Martha (overly dramatized by Jessica Jennings) finds out she has cancer. And her emotionally unavailable husband doesn’t know how to deal with it. So he just bluntly tells her he cant take care of her ‘in case he catches it’. Catches cancer. (Yeah, you read that right). She spends the rest of the evening trying to make him notice her, love her, comfort her. But with the lack of nuance, they look like overly dramatized amateur scenes where no one is connecting. I wish the theme of connection (and missed connections) were explored further. But no one on stage cared about connecting. There was a hollowness to the whole show that was disheartening.

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The one bright spot in this mediocre production was Tyson Hall. He took beautifully written dialogue – “worlds of dead people live inside of me. They build cities in me” and made the words fully come to life. I felt his pain. I left with so many questions about his character. And that is what good theatre does. It doesn’t answer questions, it forces us to ask a million more.

The ending is the oddest tableau of a man curling up in a robe upstage. It made absolutely no sense. But then again, most of the play was disjointed, so maybe that was what director Brent Buell was trying to say- miscommunication can be often be misconstrued as connection in a play with very little nuance or substance.

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