Life Support – Tick Tock
When it comes down to it, Madeline Long’s Life Support doesn’t exactly seem written for the general public. It employs a ton of quite technical medical references as it takes a bird’s-eye view of a type of medical treatment called Palliative care. The World Health Organization defines Palliative care as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual”. Basically, a more holistic, rounded approach of looking at treating dying patients than hooking them up and letting them go. I think that, honestly, the average theater-goer might find this one a little less than roller-coaster exciting. But, as I was leaving a lecture-hall-made-theatre on Bayview medical campus, a student stopped me and told me how much she identified with the challenges presented in the play. And that’s something to fucking note, IMHO. This work has touched people in a way that caused them to speak up about the issues related to death and dying, a loaded and tricky subject. I think that says something very positive about Long and her goals for this piece.
Life Support, produced by Galen Theatre and directed by Brent Englar, is presented at Bayview Medical Campus (and a few other locations, so check their facebook/ticketing agent). I saw the show in a lecture hall temporarily transformed into a studio theatre. Karl (Rodney Bonds) lies in a hospital bed (we assume) dying- the play is called Life Support, after all. There’s a table strewn with a hospital’s miscellanea, an IV cart, and other medical, you know, stuff. Dr. Rachel Li (Elizabeth Ung) comes in to explain the dire situation, and goes to attend to this patient. She’s probably a great doctor, but she’s rushed, and kind of lacking in bedside manner. Karl’s a bit stubborn, but funky-cool, and in denial about the terminal condition he’s in. It’s kind of hard to give in to impending doom, right? We meet his difficult, yet loving and compassionate (fifth!) wife, Lori (Ann Turiano). We’re also introduced to Karl’s son (please call me) Jack, whose real name is (ahem) Pembroke (Eric Paul Boelsche), an angsty late-twenties poster child for trustfund entitlement. The nurse just wants to do her job, while Lori, rather helplessly, and desperately, wants everything to be okay. Pembroke brings his whole angsty drama into the mix to keep things pleasingly over-the-top dysfunctional family. Eventually, uh, Karl dies (sorry to spoil it, but if you didn’t get it by now, I can’t help you) and that’s that. This play could take about 20 minutes to tell the entire story but the experience is upwards of and hour forty-five. Sheesh –beat a dead horse why don’t you [Oh, Achilles. I’m gonna get e-mails. -TBO].
Englar’s direction was fairly functional, probably a by-product of constricted space, an improvised off-stage area, and some diversity in acting ability. That’s not to say he didn’t cook a little heat in the relationships though, particularly between Turiano and Boelsche, who slay at this lecture party. Not only do they both hold their own for character, but they come off as completely believable and, crucially, relatable. The chemistry between these two is killer step-mom(ster) drama realness. There’s enough side-eye for an episode of Jerry Springer. Bonds is maybe a little too sure of himself, a little cocky as an actor, and, I found myself a bit unable to relate to Karl when I really needed to (I have to say, his one-liner bio in the program doesn’t help with my eye rolling perception of him, first impressions start at the door, y’all). Ung is young, but impressive in her own right. She’ll further find her footing as she gets more experience under her belt.
The Bottom Line: Life Support isn’t exactly the most thrilling night at the theater ever, but it is educational, for sure (especially if you’re looking for education on fucked-up family dynamics as a patriarch lays dying in a hospital bed) and, if it hits you close to home, it’s going to really hit you close to home, you know? It’s one of those pieces that immediately strikes you as important. I mean, schooling people on the reality of dying for the dying and those that care for them? That’s some noble shit right there.
Running at Bayview Medical Campus (and other locations, be sure to check) until May 1st.
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