Monday, March 15, 2010

Chemonologues

Marilyn Wattman, a cancer survivor, wrote Chemonologues and I went to the first reading of the play at Theatre Downtown (2113 North Orange Avenue). The play reading was supported by a professional development grant from United Arts. When I got to the theater, the front doors were locked. Tommy Wingo was also waiting with a huge collection of sound equipment. He made a cell phone call to Brian Feldman, Marilyn's son, and was told to knock loudly. Sure enough, after several loud knocks the doors opened. Marilyn immediately greeted us and showed us into the theater. Tommy set up in the center section and I sat down at stage left and started sketching the stage area. I used my time by penciling all the chairs in the proper locations and when the actors arrived I sketched each in ink on a chair. The theater is a dark intimate space and I fell in love with it immediately.
Chemonologues is set up as a cancer survivors support group. Marilyn interviewed dozens of cancer survivors in order to find the different voices in the play. She began as a reporter but over time realized she was personally and intimately involved. During the talk back after the reading, Mr. Feldman got choked up as he described how Marilyn hated going to support groups. He continued by pointing out the never-ending costs of cancer; medical bills keep piling up and there is no way for the family to deal with it.
Several times during the reading characters clashed and disagreed, but overall the play was more educational rather than dramatic. The information is presented in a preachy manner at times rather than being presented through conversation and action. For me, the play ran too long, but I can see the amazing potential in the premise. One audience member pointed out that too many of the characters in the play were in the acceptance stages of the disease. She wanted to see other stages of grief and denial, like anger, bargaining and depression. She pointed out that it would be nice to get more of a feeling of the day-to-day struggles of living with cancer, and how our health care system often leaves survivors up the creek without a paddle.
The harsh realities presented in this play are difficult to face, but I do feel I understand and can empathize more with families that have to live with the disease. Most everyone I know has had their family touched by cancer at some point and yet it is not something that we talk about very often. This play is a diamond in the rough that could still use some more polishing.
Thumbs up to the cast who only read the play once before this reading and to Marilyn who is taking bold chances, and I hope she continues to do so.

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