The play's the thing

The Wonderful World of Science

By Steve Gold
Directed by Wesley Apfel
Enigma Theatre Co.
Variety Cafe
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

The Wonderful World of Science concerns Lisa Lindstrom (Kinley Lyra Doucette), a new PhD in virology from Johns Hopkins who first escapes a sexual relationship with her thesis adviser and then becomes a fellow at Columbia. Her goal is to do cutting-edge work on AIDS. Since the play is set in 1992 and the project she finds involves work on protease inhibitors, it would seem that she has indeed found that cutting edge. She unfortunately finds a place as an assistant for the researcher from Hell, Marie Hendrick (Debra Zane), who belittles her every effort. Lindstrom also makes the mistake of ordering an expensive book without permission. When Lindstrom, who has an attitude problem, ridicules Hendrick in front of the rest of the team, Hendrick gets revenge by seeing to it that Columbia deducts the cost of the book from Lindstrom's paltry salary.

The Variety Cafe performance space is a challenge. Ambient noise made it hard to concentrate on, or even hear, some dialog in the play. The primitive lighting controls meant there were no blackouts between scenes. Backstage was behind a white sheet. (Which was also an effective performing area for the first scene, where the onstage protagonist defended her PhD thesis to two doctors, present as projected shadows on the sheet.)

The Enigma Theatre Company didn't rise above the environmental distractions. Doucette's characterization was earnest but affectless. Clark McKnight, as her mentor, was too young for the complex role of a (somewhat) older man using his student while simultaneously furthering her career. Zane brought real pepper to Hendrick, who unfortunately is written as an unredeemed bitch. Dan Royer, as the carnivorous and sleazy Dr. Clarence, was also one-dimensional (and too young to be the acting head of the gynecology department). David Boyd, as Bernard Lerner, a bean-counter Hendrick sends to torture Lindstrom, was boyish and not threatening (and some of his lines were hard to understand). Melissa Osborn as an AIDS patient who happens to be hanging about in the hallway when Lerner puts the screws to Lindstrom was touching, but the only result of the encounter is her intent to write a letter complaining about Lindstrom's salary. In general, some of the actors appeared to be having line problems, energy was low, and there were long pauses between lines.

This material has potential. When Hendrick read Tyler's reference letter, there was a shiver of anticipation that Tyler has put Lindstrom's career in the hopper just to keep possession of her body - but the letter is a rave. The underlying irony of the play - that everyone is convinced Lindstrom's work is a waste of time, when in fact she is working on what turns out to be a major advance in AIDS - is not developed. Lindstrom alternately asserts that all research work, however unsuccessful, has value and that her own work is useless; Hendrick heartily agrees with her on the latter point. Result: no conflict. Characters pop up and disappear arbitrarily. The theme of sexual harassment goes nowhere.

It is plucky to stage a play in such a truly Off-Off-Off-Broadway venue, but a hostile environment makes it harder to concentrate on the purpose of a workshop production: to develop the script.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 0
Acting: 0
Sets: 0
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 0

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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton