A Very Common Procedure, A CurtainUp Online Theater Magazine Off-Broadway review, CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Review
A Very Common Procedure

I'll be performing the catherization procedure.— Dr. Patel
Is it dangerous?—Michael.
It's a very common procedure. Sinai performs over a hundred a year.—Dr. Patel
How many have you done?—Michael
This will be my first. . .—Dr. Patel
Lynn Collins and Stephen Kunken in A Very Common Procedure
Lynn Collins and Stephen Kunken in A Very Common Procedure
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The masks symbolizing comedy and tragedy are always shown as a pair. Rightly so, since even the saddest stories tend to have humorous moments. The use of humor in tragedies is thus as much a common a procedure for playwrghts as the life saving catherization is for doctors. Unfortunately neither the catherization performed in Courtney Baron's play or its humor work.

The problem is that A Common Procedure's particular brand of humor seems incompatible with Carolyn and Michael Goldenhersch's (Lynn Collins and Stephen Kunken) journey from utter joy about their impending parenthood to inconsolable despair and marital alienation. The glib, hip, very New York talk works well for their various recollections about their courtship and their reaction to becoming parents, but the continued glibness doesn't jibe with the desperation driving Carolyn's irrational fixation on Anil Patel (Amir Arison), the doctor who did the procedure that resulted in the baby's death.

Despite Ms. Baron's gift for dialogue that's tightly interlocked, smartly punctuated with on target cultural observations, the business about Carolyn and Michael's Jewish backgrounds and the very American Dr. Patel's ethnic heritage often feels as if it belongs in another play. As for Carolyn's post-partum obsession with Dr. Patel, it is an inventive plot twist that sidesteps comparisons to a made-for-TV soapopera-ish movie or a Gray's Anatomy or House episode. However, while the playwright probably intended the mostly comic infidelity as a means for making this heartbreaking and serious situation less painful to watch, the fact remains that it IS serious and painful and doesn't fit this jokey treatment. The marital triangle is intriguing but more bizarre than believable, especially Dr. Patel's willingness to become part of it.

Having the actors spend much of the eighty minutes directly addressing the audience is again initially clever, but in the long run too facile and off-putting. Instead of pulling us into the story, as was no doubt intended, this fourth wall breaking keeps us aware that we're watching actors and makes it difficult to become caught up in their emotional trauma.

Director Michael Grief has drawn fine performances from the actors. All skillfully handle their roles as story tellers and active participants in the zig-zagging current and flashback scenes. Lynn Collins, who gets to confide in the audience most often, avoids overplaying the most damaged member of the trio. Stephen Kunken displays just the right sort of dry, nice guy charm as the husband who's desperate not to lose his wife as well as his baby. Amir Arison is well cast as the cool and completely American doctor who can talk fluently about medical procedures but seems to have little talent for the human touch. His part as written allows barely a peek into the heart beating inside the white doctor's coat. The design team has made sure that what might also be called Scenes From a Marriage is thoroughly modern and fluid.

It's too bad then, that despite the engaging performances, this script by an obviously talented and imaginative playwright hasn't provided us with a stronger sense of connection to the agonizing and possibly insurmountable grief experienced by this young couple and their desperate but futile search for spiritual understanding and help. There are some rather touching hints of this: Michael says Kaddish for the dead baby. Carolyn turns to Anil in an attempt to understand how Hindus deal with death. Anil, an avowed atheist, either to please and help Carolyn or because she triggers some deep need in him, buys a book on the Hindu practices about which he knows no more than her. However, there's no real follow- through to allow these or various conversational detours to make sense — a shortcoming that is especially true for the trio's final, and most unbelievable, depressing and explosive meeting.

When this play premiered in San Francisco it was titled Mortality and Morbidity, a medical phrase for the practice of evaluating the handling of a Morbidity (the scientific term for disease). Perhaps if Ms. Baron had subjected her play to this sort of evaluation, she could have done some corrective surgery and not just re-named her baby but saved it from arriving at the Lortel Theater impaired by its over reliance on presentational story telling and excessively glib humor.

By Courtney Baron
Directed by Michael Greif
Cast: Amir Arison, Lynn Collins and Stephen Kunken
Sets: Robin West
Costumes: Miranda Hoffman
Lights: Tyler Micoleau
Original Music and Sound:< Fabian Obispo
Running Time: 80 minutes without an intermission
MCC THEATER at the Lucille Lortel Theatre,121 Christopher Street 212-279-4200.
From 1/312/07 to 3/10/07; opening 2/14/07
uesday through Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets: $60
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on February 12th
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