LOOK AFTER YOU
"Look after You" by Louise Flory. Directed by David Stallings.
Produced by Maieutic Theatre Works for the New York Fringe International Festival. Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St., NYC.
Aug. 14 - 29, 2009. 5 performances. (closed)
America's obsession with health has taken some unusual entertainment twists. Once it was the genial Marcus Welby. M.D. (notice the name) who reassured everyone – television viewer and onstage patient – that everything was under control. The sexy young Richard Chamberlain in TV's "Dr. Kildare" made illness something even desirable. Look who cares! "E.R." brought terror and chaos; "Scrubs" added incompetence and residents more focused on each other than us. And then came "House," a brilliant doctor who would as soon kill us as cure us so long as he got to the bottom of our remarkable disease. "House" begins it sixth season in Sept.
To protect ourselves, we are turning the owners of the Vitamin Shoppe and other supplement venues into multimillionaires. We are experimenting with a thousand different diets, searching (and travelling) globally for the answers to good health, and even learning the history of soy in China through an advertising campaign. Our playwrights – and screenwriters – are exploring textbooks for lesser known ailments that might just strike.
"Look after You" by Louise Flory at the New York Fringe International Festival is a wave in this ocean. Hannah (Louise Flory) is at the beginning of her career as a photographer and has just accepted her live-in boyfriend's proposal of marriage. A freak accident leaves her with a brain aneurysm. Her short term memory has been damaged so she doesn't recall people and events, even Jake's (Jason Altman) proposal. Jake is still loyal, giving her pep talks and playing odd word games with her that make sense once we learn how they stimulate her brain cells. It's interesting – the interactions, the at-home treatment, even hearing about her check-ups – the questions the doctors ask to test her condition. The big problem for the couple is the uncertainty. Hannah's aneurysm may absorb or it may suddenly kill her, and there is no effective treatment.
It's hard to maintain this level of audience curiosity so Flory introduces a hard-edged career-obsessed sister (Adi Kurtchik), who creates static in every scene, the boyfriend's reluctance to remind Hannah that she is engaged (the hospital took her ring when she entered ICU and returned it to Jake), and a friend's (Lowell Byers) unmotivated interference in the relationship. These are sit-com staples that lose the author all the possibilities inherent in the situation she created. The aneurysm becomes the drama, which is always the danger for a playwright with a good premise. The real dramaturgy is ignored.
David Stallings directs this pleasant – maybe even feel-good – work competently. The actors know their lines but haven't quite found their characters so that we get an idea of how these people would behave rather than feeling three-dimensional humans struggle through a crisis. In the program, David Stallings, who is also the Artistic Director of Maieutic Theatre Works, the producers, wrote: "As someone who has lived through the aftermath of dealing with a loved one suffering brain trauma at too young an age, I was immediately seduced by the play." David Lindsay-Abaire, one of my favorite younger playwrights, built his career on medical disasters with "Fuddy Meers" (psychogenic amnesia, mental disability, physical deformity, and aphasia) and "Kimberly Akimbo" (progeria or rapid aging). It's an appealing genre.