Theater: “I’m Revolting” at Atlantic Theater Company
I’ll bet not one theatergoer says to him/her/themselves, “Gee, I feel like being entertained tonight. Let’s go see a play about skin cancer.” Further, when the play is entitled “We’re Revolting”, I’d hazard that’s not much of a draw either.
But playwright Gracie Gardner tackles the subject of skin cancer—something that’s estimated to kill over 7500 Americans this year—with sensitivity, honesty and even some wit—that is to say, macabre New York wit.
The scene is the waiting room of a NYC skin cancer clinic, where half a dozen patients are waiting to be seen. They represent a wide swath—one young woman (Alicia Pilgrim) is scared she will lose her looks permanently if she undergoes surgery. Her brassy investment banker sister Anna (Gabby Beans) is impatiently waiting for the visit to be over. “Here,” she says flashing a couple of bills to the young resident (Bartley Booz). “Maybe this will speed things up.”
The other patients include an older man (Peter Garety) who returns annually for another treatment of his cancer—you get the feeling he actually likes coming back to the clinic. Another man (Glenn Fitzgerald) has brought his wife (Emily Cass McDonald) who appears to be in terrible shape, while still another despondent young man (Patrick Vaill who played Judd in “Oklahoma” years ago in St. Ann’s Warehouse) is accompanied by his mother (Laura Esterman). A big believer in alternative medicine, she seems to imply her son has brought the cancer on himself. Meanwhile, the head doctor (the marvelous Patrice Johnson Chevannes) is a model of cool and compassion—a professional who can control all the concerns of her various patients as skillfully as a symphony orchestra conductor.
Admittedly, I’ve never seen patients openly bond in a NYC waiting room like this—it’s the kind of behavior you might see while waiting to be called for jury duty or getting your license renewed at the DMV. But what you do overhear often in New York are conversations that you’re drawn into and feel compelled to enter. And these patients do interact with each other—not always with the kindest results.
“We’re Revolting” isn’t the first play written about patients facing medical trauma. But it is engaging and well-directed. And if anyone can make a night about skin cancer even the least bit entertaining, well, my caduceus is off to you.