Wednesday, June 17, 2009

hospital 2009, episode one (Axis Company)

By Kitty

BOTTOM LINE: Be sure to make some space in your head

Hmm. Or maybe, hmm? Such was my response to Axis Company's opening weekend performance of hospital 2009. hospital, now in its tenth year, is a serial play that explores the cerebral inner workings of a terminally comatose man. Each annual cycle employs a different scenario as a metaphor to illustrate the man's dissension into darkness. This year finds him floating in a small escape pod in outer space having accidentally detached himself from his mother ship. He is not certain as to how or why these events have occurred and what's more, he is not entirely convinced that these events have happened at all for in his dream-like state, he experiences vague flashes of his Earth-bound life which persuade him otherwise. Unfortunately, the audience is left just as confused and aimless as the play's main character. Maybe that's the point...?

Despite an interesting premise, a capable cast and a style-savvy creative team, hospital 2009 is a tough sell. The script lacks clarity, the characters are deficient in definition and the dialogue is so heavy with outer space techno speak, it is nearly impossible to follow the movement scene to scene or even sentence to sentence. In addition, the relationships between characters are so aggravatingly ambiguous that the audience is left asking themselves, "Who are these people and why should I care about them?"

At times, it feels as if hospital 2009 isn't really concerned about what the audience thinks, feels or even understands. Other than the set up outlined in the production's program, hospital does not attempt to aid the audience in the navigation of the script's complex storyline nor does it encourage the investment into what they do know about the characters and the circumstances surrounding them. Strange elements appear unexpectedly, but because they are never fully explained, rather than adding interest, depth or comedy, they instead create a component of superfluous frivolity which leaves the audience resentful of the production's pretension.

Regardless of hospital 2009's shortcomings, the production value is noteworthy. Axis Company's space, located in the beautiful West Village, sports an ultra-modern design complete with chrome accents, leather furniture and flat-screen television monitors embedded in the walls. The theater itself, a basement space, possesses perfect dimensions, comfortable audience seating and superior technical capabilities. As soon as one steps into the space, it feels as though one has taken a field trip to the city planetarium, an effect which serves the production well considering the celestial location of this year's installment.

(hospital 2009 includes 4 episodes and plays through July 25 at One Sheridan Square. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8pm. For the complete schedule visit Tickets are $12, student and senior tickets are $6. To purchase tickets call 212.807.9300.)

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