E/R Emergency Room
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., April 27, 2001
E/R Emergency Room: So Real it Hurts
Mary Moody Northern Theatre,
through April 29
Running Time: 1 hr, 30 min
Blood's all over the stage in the Mary Moody Northern Theatre at St. Edward's University. Well, okay, it's stage blood and it's only splattered across a small part of the arena stage, but it's damned effective splattering. It's damned effective theatre, too, this revival of the original E/R Emergency Room, scripted years ago by the story wizards at Chicago's Organic Theatre Company and brought back to life at St. Ed's under the tourniquet-tight direction of Ev Lunning Jr.
The directing needs to be that tight: There are so many things happening, and often simultaneously, on the smallish stage pretending to be the emergency room at a major Chicago hospital, that Lunning must have channeled some wise and ancient traffic cop to choreograph the action. When there's a patient being admitted in one part of the set, and a guy being examined in another part, and an angry brawl sprawling into these and other parts, with wheelchairs being shoved and IV bottles swinging on gurneys and nurses and doctors attempting to contain the fray, and all of this progressing as smoothly as artificial chaos can well, we can picture Lunning at ease in a blue uniform in the center island of a hextuple intersection in some thrumming metropolis.
Luckily, Lunning's direction brings out the best acting, too. This is an ensemble piece, with everybody in a big role or several smaller ones, and they work like a team of complex organs to provide a living, breathing, dynamic body of performance. There's Dr. Daniels, an old-school save-them-no-matter-what embodiment of professional dignity who has a work ethic straight outta Plymouth Rock; the second-tier medico, Dr. Sanders, a younger, flashier man who's dedicated enough, sure, but merely integrates his job into a more varied life outside medicine; Joanie Thor, the head nurse (?), trying to control the near-constant emergencies and keep the more whacked-out patients in line. There's more staff, too, and a whole motley parade of injured and ailing citizens coming in for help, a three-ring circus of triage and treatment that's leavened, just like life, with bits of naturally occurring humor. You'd have to be a surveillance camera on the wall of a real E/R to get much closer than this. Visiting Equity actors Tim Russ and Bruce A. Young turn in solid, compelling realizations of the main docs, and the rest of the troupe is beyond ordinary stock. I doubt any of the student performers took theatre simply because it might have seemed easier than calculus; if so, they're doing an excellent job in spite of themselves -- perhaps inspired by a set design by Michael Massey that seems commissioned by Brackenridge.
The action gets downright bloody and intense at times in this exciting show; and that, unless you're squeamish, only makes it better.