Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Out There" with Wunderbaum/LAPD's "Hospital"

The Walker is known for nontraditional performances, and Wunderbaum/LAPD's Hospital production fits right in. 


Credit: Walker Art Center
Equal parts spoof of the fetishization of the medical world in television (a la Grey's Anatomy) and serious commentary on flaws in the international health care system, Hospital touches on everything from birth/labor to accidents to emergencies to end of life care. Told essentially through the perspective of John Malpede, Hospital weaves the medical staff and personal experiences that Malpede encounters as he ages into a larger timeline of healthcare milestones in America (think Medicare being installed, the creation of the HMO, Obamacare, etc.). Politics are also obviously involved, perhaps culminating in a (rather confusing) "cameo" from Ronald Reagan. 

What could be Hospital's selling point and most powerful argument for a more comprehensive healthcare system (Malpede's personal struggles with lack of healthcare coverage and the sky high cost of medical care) is also unfortunately its Achilles heel. Malpede gets consumed in his own narrative, and as the play progresses he sounds less upset about legitimate flaws in the system and more like someone who is frustrated that no one is taking care of him. There is an endless amount of examples of ways the American health care system has not served its patients well, but it seems a bit odd for someone who appears rather proud to not have purchased healthcare for himself as a young man to then complain that young people today are not participating in a healthcare system that would subsidize him now in older age. Just a thought. 

As far as production goes, however, Hospital is exciting. The use of videocameras in particular is fascinating, with action-packed scenes co-existing with close up camera zooms that give viewers an intimate view into what patients and doctors in extremely tense conditions must see. It's the closest I've seen theater come to a television medical drama, and it's fantastic.

Credit: Walker Art Center
The acting is a mixed bag (the Dutch component (Wunderbaum) is a professional company; LAPD is not quite as much), but it's enjoyable regardless. Several of the Dutch actors lend a much needed comedic flavor to Hospital, and it helps lighten the heavy personal load Malpede drops on the audience. 

The Walker's annual "Out There" series is always a delightful experiment in terms of theatrical possibility. Even when featured shows aren't the most enjoyable, they open your eyes to the endless ways live theater can be portrayed and stories can be told, and for that, it's a must-see. "Out There" runs through the end of January; for more information, click on this link. Or, for a visual sampling, check out the video below.