Jordan Pettle, Ari Cohen and Michelle Monteith in Waiting Room
Reviewed by James Karas
Near the end of Waiting Room, Diana Flacks’s new play, there is an explosion of emotion that is simply staggering. A couple’s child has died after going through some horrendous medical procedures but nothing worked to save her life. The death of a child surely produces the most deeply-felt and keenest pain that a human being can endure. This play brings that pain to the stage in all its rawness.
The waiting room is in a children’s hospital. Andre (Ari Cohen) is a gifted neurosurgeon who is arrogant, gruff, egotistical and completely lacking in anything that may be called human. He has detected that he is suffering from early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that does not humanize him in the least.
The main plot involves the treatment of Jeremy’s (Jordan Pettle) and Chrissie’s (Michelle Monteith) daughter. Andre wants to try aggressive and untested treatments while his assistant and lover Melissa (Jenny Young), and Dr. Aayan (Warona Setshwaelo) try to keep him within ethical bounds. Andre wants to treat his own battle with Alzheimer’s the same way.
A seriously ill child, a distraught couple and a young doctor with a serious illness can provide heart-wrenching drama as well as compelling arguments about the ethics of experimental procedures and end-of-life decisions.
It works only partly. There is a great deal of medical terminology which no doubt makes sense but comes out as simple jargon. There are some attempts at describing the diseases in simple or metaphoric language but the jargon seems to dominate.
Melissa is a sympathetic character but she is stuck in an untenable situation. Chrissie and Jeremy argue but do not express as much emotion as the situation justifies until near the end of the play.
Ari Cohen, Jenny Young and Warona Setshwaelo in Waiting Room
By the final scene Flacks seems to have run out of material and provides a rather insipid denouement. It may be an attempt to tie up loose ends and give us Andre’s and Melissa’s fates but it is somewhat unconvincing.
The set by Kelly Wolf consisting of gray tones eschews the sterile white tones of a hospital. There are no white lab coats (except Dr. Aayan) and other indicia of a hospital except for an intravenous stand. Images of the human brain are projected on a screen at the back of the stage as well as enlarged images of cells.
Pettle’s Jeremy and Monteith’s Chrissie are somewhat immature characters who do not communicate the depth and intensity of their impending tragedy until the end. There is a danger about the play becoming maudlin and sentimental but in trying to avoid that Flacks has robbed us of what should have been an emotionally draining play throughout.
We never warm up to Andre and his final fate which should fill us with emotion at the terrible end of a young doctor, leaves us indifferent.
Flacks had a great idea for a play but the final result still needs some editing to bring that idea to its full potential.
Waiting Room by Diane Flacks continues until February 15, 2015 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com