As soon as the house lights went down and the theme music from the 1980s television series “St. Elsewhere” started, I laughed – and I continued to laugh, chuckle and grin throughout the entire world premiere performance of the comedy “Causa Mortis or The Medical Student” at the Detroit Repertory Theatre.
And with good reason:
Playwright Jacob M. Appel’s scalpel-sharp, satirical examination of the health care system is just what the doctor ordered to raise your spirits – unless you’re scheduled for surgery any time soon, that is!
Set in the neurology ward of an unnamed hospital, Eleanor (Sandra Birch) refuses surgery to remove a life-threatening Swiss watch that was left in her skull four decades earlier during the removal of a tumor – not because she’s afraid, but because of two odd-defying incidents that have left the chief surgeon, Dr. Gwendolyn Falk (Deborah Carter), too scared to perform the necessary procedure. In the meantime, an amnesiac with a death wish (Yolanda Jack) shares Eleanor’s room, and together they torture a nervous medical student (Lisa Lauren Smith) whose ineptitude could be painful – for the hospital’s malpractice insurer. But when secret deals are struck, will everyone get what they asked for?
Appel’s script gently pokes a needle in the eyes of an industry that far-too often refuses to admit its human failings. And in the capable hands of director Bruce E. Millan, the points he makes are often hysterically – yet frighteningly – revealing.
Millan’s staging is brisk and efficient. But his strongest assets are his actors.
Birch – as always – is in top form, creating yet another delightfully off-kilter character. She’s matched by Jack and Smith, as well as by Leah Smith and Kelly Komlen who play Eleanor’s polar-opposite daughters.
The only weak spot is Carter, who was a bit stiff and unnatural throughout much of opening night.
Excellent sound choices by designer Burr Huntington and fine technical execution contribute greatly to the show’s appeal.
‘Causa Mortis or The Medical Student’
Detroit Repertory Theatre, 13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit. Thursday-Sunday through Dec. 27, plus New Year’s Eve. $17-$20. 313-868-1347. http://www.detroitreptheatre.com