reading ruminations: men in white

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Men in White [reading]

by Sidney Kingsley
Directed by Gregory Victor & Allie Mulholland
Featuring Ronald Rand, Pete McElligot, Emily Ciotti, Dana Panepinto and others
The ReGroup Theatre Company, Neighborhood Playhouse Theatre 340 E 54th
production web site:
http://www.regrouptheatre.org/News_and_Events.html

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 13, 2010 [one night only]

Playwright Sidney Kingsley and the Group Theatre created a 1933 world in white that earned the playwright a Pulitzer prize, garnered praise from critics for the young theatre group, and birthed a now ubiquitous storytelling genre: the medical drama.  From the The Best Plays 1933-1934 edited by Burns Mantle (on my home library shelves as part of the complete set 1899 through 1969-70, through various editors, courtesy of my theatre loving grandfather) I learn that the Group Theatre (then three years old) purchased this work from the playwright who had sold and not completed the script four previous times.  The Group rehearsed and tweaked the story for three months prior to the September 26, 1933 opening at the Broadhurst Theatre, and at that point, according to critic Mantle (p. 76),

” … they were in such complete command of every feature of the production that the audience, including the critics, was ready to stand in the aisles and cheer.  And did.”

Tonight’s one-off reading event of Men in White at The Neighborhood Playhouse Theatre by the ReGroup Theatre provides a 21st-century audience a solid and respectful and enthusiastic partially-staged reading that illustrates that issues of class and need and social welfare still burn bright in the United States of America.  Calls for socialized medicine first articulated almost 80 years ago brought sardonic laughter — we have so far to go to achieve medical resources that are, in the words of one character, “subsidized by the community.”  It is true that we no longer live in a society where a woman’s right to an abortion is restricted by law nor is it this restriction part of a doctor’s oath intoned in a heart-stopping sequence here as physicians prepare for an emergency hysterectomy:  “nor shall I give to a woman an abortive remedy”.  But the right is in jeopardy in many jurisdictions.  We today can smile at dialog which indicates the limits of medicine in 1933  (no heart transplants, septic shock etc.) yet one of the points of this universal story is that what isn’t known today will be known tomorrow, as medicine evolves, and knowledge is cumulative.

Dr. Leo Hochberg (Ronald Rand) has the research lab and the experience that all the medical interns (all male in this 1933 piece) respect; Dr. Levine (Logan James Hall) returns to the old training ground and we learn that he gave up his family money for love when he married a gentile girl some years before; Dr. Greg Ferguson (Pete McElligot) is our hero, our current intern who has to choose between the love of a fun-loving rich girl Laura Hudson (Emily Ciotti), his time-consuming career dream working in Dr. Hochberg’s lab, and the student nurse Barbara Dennin (Dana Panepinto) with whom he dallies at the end of Act I.  Along the path of these soap opera plot points we have class conflicts, politics, religion, and the role of socialized medicine.  Our hero Greg Ferguson also repeats his own father’s dying words to him: “Above all else is humanity.”  And a sizable cast of nurses, doctors, trustees, and patients fills out the stage and the stories.

This is not a drama with a light touch, but it is worth hearing and reading and knowing, and it holds in it the voice of America.  Nicely done, ReGroup Theatre Company.  Nicely done.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 14, 2010)

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