Dallas — Frieda Dunkelberg (AKA Tristan Von) is listed in the 18th Annual Festival of Independent Theaters program as the Creator/Director/Writer of Hospit(al)able, a clichéd, loosely directed work produced by Frieda Dunkelberg and Company, and described by its creator in a TheaterJones interview as a devised work for which she wrote an outline that her New York cast collaborated in developing over several months. The Dallas newcomer says the 60-minute FIT production presented on opening night is a “similar version” of the earlier piece.
Ambitious, workaholic Elizabeth (Kym Ferguson Cartwright) and laidback James (Cyran Harrington), are doctors in a psychiatric hospital trying to figure out how to retrieve memories and/or zap bad memories from patients so they’ll be happy again. She keeps trying to get data; he keeps trying to get her to dance with him. Neither one of them can dance, although Elizabeth gives it the old nurses station try. Then back to work, a desk and narrow hospitable bed in the simple set designed by Brenna McShane.
This listless scene drifts into a couple dancing cheek to cheek on the bad streets outside the hospital, apparently instilling memories to the music of everything from Cage the Elephants to the Ink Spots’ nostalgic version of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The songs match the mood throughout the piece, and are the best part of the show. Unhappily, the collaborations provide little ongoing meaningful structure—even for devised theater—or dialogue built around the emotions evoked by the music. Worse, three wood-and-fabric structures brought in to form a hospital room are too large and obstructive for the small Bath House stage.
At one point, the audience is invited onto the stage, presumably to experience what it’s like as onlookers in a psychiatric hospital. On opening night, the crackerjack young actors from Fun House Theatre, who performed earlier, filed eagerly onto the playing space, along with a couple of other audience members. But nobody employed the kids or engaged them. They stood around on the periphery of the seats, ready for immersion into the action, but nothing happened and in a bit the nurses sort of shooed them back to their seats. They’ll probably get a hospital bill, nonetheless.
Calvin (handsome, pliant Matthew Talton) and Eleanor (pretty, game Kayla Pena) are better dancers, but they get strung out on heroin and make a headload of bad memories. Calvin falls into obsessive Elizabeth’s research clutches and from there it’s a mash-up of The Bourne Identity and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There’s even a couple of smug-looking nurses (Courtney Mentzel and Joanna Coogan making occasionally amusing banter), their eyes glinting in Nurse Ratched style, telling a confused and deflated Calvin, “You’ve been released; sign this and go home.”
Sounds good to me.
» See more info about the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres in our special section here, where you can also learn how to download our FIT app. In that app, you'll see a section for the playbills for each company, which includes cast, creative and director's notes.
» Read our interview with Frieda Dunkelberg
Hospit(al)able is performed in the following blocks:
- 5pm Saturday, July 16
- 2pm Sunday, July 24
- 8pm Saturday, July 30