by Lynn on January 15, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

By Diane Flacks

Directed by Richard Greenblatt

Designed by Kelly Wolf

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Composition and Sound Design by Reza Jacobs

Projections by Cameron Davis

Starring: Ari Cohen

Michelle Monteith

Jordan Pettle

Warona Setshwaeto

Jane Spidell

Jenny Young

A clear-eyed, compassionate look at the many facets of medical care in life and death situations, and how it affects the patients,  families and doctors.

The Story.  Chrissie and Jeremy are the parents of an infant daughter named Jessie. Jessie has spent most of the first year of her life in the hospital, in intensive care because she has a cancerous brain tumour. The parents wait and worry. They also fret that the arrogant doctor (Andre is his first name) heading her case only spends 45 seconds at a time explaining Jessie’s condition and the various procedures he wants to try. They have nicknamed him “Dr. 45 seconds.”

In the meantime Andre embarks on a daring, aggressive medical trial to treat early onset-Alzheimer’s Disease, using new drugs. He coerces his colleague Melissa to administer the drug. He appeals to the scientist in her, to be at the beginning of a possible cure. He is also romantically involved with Melissa. And to put a fine point of urgency on the enterprise, Andre is the patient undergoing the trial. He promises Melissa that if there are any side affects he will let her know.

The Production. Kelly Wolf’s design is simple and efficient—a waiting room stage left, a doctor’s office stage right. The lighting (Bonnie Beecher) is also spare.  Projections (Cameron Davis) of a diseased brain are projected above the stage at times as well as other effects. We see the extent of the progression of Andre’s Alzheimer’s Disease  by these projections. The sound effects and composition (Reza Jacobs) give the sense of a beating heart, or throbbing momentum.

Director Richard Greenblatt uses all this to beautifully guide the production to serve the play. There is nothing flashy here except the urgent, relentless sense of the passing of time for people (Jessie and Andre) who need more of it. Every time a difficult decision has to be made about a tricky procedure or a new treatment, the weight of making the right decision is palpable. Greenblatt’s direction is full of moments that are gripping and gut-twisting as well as nuanced and subtle.

The cast is terrific. As Andre, Ari Cohen has his arrogance and ego down pat. He rattles off complex procedures in a cool, matter-of-fact way because Chrissie and Jeremy have insisted he give them more than lip-service. Playwright Diane Flacks has beautifully written that kind of doctor who is gifted in medicine but not in dealing with people. Andre loves treating disease but not having to explain it to the people who have it, or their loved ones.

As Chrissie, Michelle Monteith is a wisp of an aching, hurt nerve. She yearns to have time with her daughter; to hold her without all the tubes interfering.  When she describes how Jessie perked up when she held her, Monteith makes that image vivid and emotional.

As Jeremy, Jordan Pettle fidgets with impatience, which the father is. Pettle realizes the desperation of Jeremy to try anything and everything to get his daughter well. And the insecurity in both parents, when they aren’t sure if they are doing right by their child, makes us gently suck air in recognition.

Comment. Diane Flacks has written an unflinching, emotional roller-coaster ride of a play that looks at the medical profession, taking risks, knowing when to let go and hope. She knows whereof she speaks. She and her partner waited, worried and watched over their infant son for almost a year as he struggled in hospital with various life-threatening medical problems. Eight years later he’s healthy.

Waiting Room is not that story, but it is a story that many parents and patients are going through. Flacks writes about a world we know or will come to know in our lives. We’ve all dealt with doctors who talk above us, if at all. Flacks gives Andre a wonderful explanation of why he says as little as he does to Chrissie and Jeremy—he doesn’t want to bother them with facts and information that will only worry them. But he does expect them to trust him unquestioningly in his risky treatments of their daughter. Do you make the decision to take the risk for your loved one or do you play it safe? Will you agree to anything, no matter how painful, for your loved one in order to save them, you hope?

It’s interesting Flacks has not called the play The Waiting Room because accurately the play takes place in many places besides the waiting room. By calling it Waiting Room the title is also metaphoric—it’s that quiet space of time that affords Chrissie the opportunity to experience Jessie as a baby, not as a sick patient. It’s that breathing room of time that some doctors need to think about how best to treat a patient, rather than jumping into action.

Waiting Room is full of compassion, tenderness, caring and moments we’ve all had, when you look heaven-ward and say, “Please! Please! Please!” and know exactly what that means. It’s full of lyrical writing, gut-wrenching emotion, and will have you wondering every step of the way what would you have done in their place. See it. Bring Kleenex.

Presented by Tarragon Theatre.

Opened: Jan. 14, 2015

Closes: Feb. 15, 2015

Cast: 6; 2 men, 4 women

Running Time: 2 hours.

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1 Lily Flacks January 16, 2015 at 8:18 pm

I sat, sometimes barely breathing, along with so many others in the audience to witness the Waiting Room. There were moments so full of compassion and love, that it was as if I was there, in the hospital, in that moment. There was laughter amidst the tears, a tour de force for my amazing daughter, Diane.
To me, Diane’s play as written and acted and directed, the lighting, all of it; brought the moment home. I was reminded of the time in the hospital when her son, Jonny said, “Mama, I am sick”; and the collected gasp of the grown-ups and the pale stillness of his brother. The Waiting Room played back those times when parents sought Diane and Janis for their moments of solace , strangers who became friends, and friends who became family.

So kudos to Diane and to all those who gave their sincerity and talents to this endeavour; hopefully a connection for so many others who have needed just that validation and eventual healing. Love, Lily Flacks