Edited to add an actual review...
The Waiting Room, by Lisa Loomer, was the perfect antidote to last night's fiasco By The Skin Of Our Teeth. While they both experiment with showing different eras in history, what sets them apart is The Waiting Room has focus, is well-written for stage, characters develop, no narration is needed because the dialog carries the plot along smoothly and provides all the information we need to understand it. Loomer is best know for writing Girl, Interrupted, which won Angelina Jolie a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1999.
Once again the acting was superb, but this time the actors did not have to struggle with long, meaningless monologues. There were a few monologues, but they were always part of a normal conversation and fit the character.
City Lights Theater in San Jose is basically a larger version of The Pear. Instead of 50 it seats about 100. It has a staging area about the size of a professional stage, but aside from a raised platform and a lighting grid, there are no stage doodads. This show could have had sets, but in the interest of easy scene changes and budget, they just went with the black curtains. Chairs, wooden squares and the occasional table were brought on and off as needed.
They did have something of a costume budget, a lot of which went for lab coats and Victorian era costumes for two of the characters.
The official synopsis of the play says it is a dark comedy about the timeless quest for beauty, and its cost. But that's only the tip of the iceberg.
The play opens in the waiting room of a surgeon. Forgiveness From Heaven (Heidi), a woman from China a few hundred years ago, is there because one of her bound feet has lost a toe. She is soon joined by Victoria (Nichole Y. Hamilton), a woman from Victorian England, who has some kind of psychosis, but her husband, who is a Victorian era doctor, blames her hysteria on her female equipment, and she is there to have ovaries removed, at his suggestion. The third patient is Wanda (Lauri Smith), a modern day blonde from New Jersey, who seems to have cosmetic surgery every time she reads about it in Cosmo. She is there to have her third set of breast implants removed.
As they chat with each other, we understand that although they are from three different times, all the action is taking place right now, and they are seeing the same modern-day surgeon. The dialog has the effect of comparing women's medicine (or lack thereof) through the ages.
Forgiveness (who is called "Mrs. From Heaven" by everyone in the hospital), is completely content with her fate, at least on the surface, of being First Wife among 5 wives, and having the pretty little bound feet which her husband loves so well. Victoria is not so complacent, and when Wanda tells her about Freud, she gladly accepts the loan of a book about his version of psychotherapy, which she reads surreptitiously when her husband is not around, and starts to consider her problem may be psychological not physical. Wanda is very blonde in some ways, but very New Jersey in that she insists on the doctor talking to her candidly, without euphemisms.
Meanwhile, we have a sub-plot which becomes not so sub by the end of the play. The hospital administrator is also on the board of a drug company which is developing an anti-cancer drug. Apparently it is toxic, and trials which his hospital is conducting are not going well. When he hears of a serum being developed in Jamaica which looks like it will beat his product to the market, he calls on another stockholder, who happens to be a scientist with the FDA, to see what they can do about making sure the drug company's product is the one which makes it to market.
Of course, one of the patients is diagnosed with cancer, which the Jamaica serum could probably cure.
I won't spoil any more of the plot, but let me send kudos to the cast. Heidi was superb. That bright cheerful smiling moon face of hers with the silky black hair down to her waist perfectly matched the character. Bear in mind that the first time I saw her act, she played a witchy old hag. Amazing job. Nichole is the ultimate Victorian wife. Tall, slender, beautiful, elegant, and her psychosis had some physical gestures and such which she presented in a very believable way. Her husband (Ron Talbot) was as much the ultimate Victorian physician/husband. Even in his golf scene with the other men from present day. Lauri was brilliant. Once in a while her Jersey accent slipped, but she grew Wanda as a person before our very eyes. Her part called for the widest range of acting, and she delivered.
Derek McCaw plays the surgeon, who on the one hand would like to try the Jamaican serum, but won't do so because it has not been approved by the FDA. He does a fine job of showing the dilemma of trying to be Professional and still remember his patients are human beings.
Larry Barrott manages to be the hard-nosed administrator, male chauvinist pig, cheating husband, corrupt drug company board member without lapsing into utter smarminess. The FDA scientist role is handled ably by Dirk Leatherman, though he could have shown more angst here and there.
D. Renee Willis played eight different roles, ranging from the surgeon's soon-to-be-a-doctor Jamaican nurse to the administrator's secretary and piece-on-the-side. While she did a good job in the various roles, it wouldn't have hurt to have one more actress to share them. Wayne Lee, who plays Heidi's husband, is given very little to work with, but does okay too.
Kit Wilder did a good job of directing, the show moved right along, the characters knew who they were, the comic side of the play came to the fore despite the general downer themes. However, I'm amused to see him sharing set design credits with Lisa Mallette, because there was no set. He is also listed as sound designer, and while I enjoyed most of the incidental music between acts, I think it was a bit much to start one of the surgeon's waiting room scenes with The First Cut Is The Deepest.
Costume design was by Joanne Martin.
The Waiting Room runs 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 26 at
City Lights Theater Company
529 S. Second St
I first met Heidi in 1989 when she was 19, and playing the part of Katishaw in The Mikado for Mountain Community Theater in Ben Lomond. My buddy George was playing Ko-Ko, and somewhere between auditions and opening night they had become An Item.
They eventually split up, and the next time I saw Heidi was at BayCon in the mid-90's. In 2000, when I was working in Palo Alto, I bumped into her at an ATM machine, and we saw each other from time to time until I changed jobs a few months later.
This was the first time I had seen her since.
After the show, in the lobby, I waited for the mob in front of her to thin out. She didn't recognize me until I said hello, when her jaw dropped clear down to the floor. She ran to me and jumped up and gave me a big koala hug.
We did a little catching up (she's married to a chef, graduated from Jay Manly's acting conservatory at Foothill), then she ran backstage to get me one of her cards, and when she came back out she introduced me to her friends. There was a line in her program bio about something called Bella Luna Caravan, which these friends are part of. Turns out this is an SCA group which apparently broke away from Golden Stag Players, of which my friend farmount is a long time member, and when I described her to them, they said "that's Nightshade". Small world.
Heidi said she is now working for Artsopolis, which is run by another friend, Ed Sengstack, whose SO was in Man of La Mancha with me in 2000, and Ed played my son in Come Blow Your Horn in 2001. Smaller world.
She had a date to go clubbing with the rest of the cast, but she told em to call her and we'll "do lunch". Should be fun.