I went down to the Berlin infirmary, I saw my baby there…

Krankenhaus Blues

By Sam Forman
Directed by Donna Mitchell
Visible Theatre Co.
Blue Heron Arts Center Studio Theatre
123 E. 24th St. (212/615-6989; www.visibletheatre.org)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 24)
Review by John Chatterton

Krankenhaus Blues is a complicated, deliberately postmodern work. Like all successful art, it is also simple: a Jewish actor/street person, Bruno  (Bill Green) sleeping in Tompkins Square Park is hustled off to a mental hospital in, ah, Nazi Germany, where he shares a cell with two cripples, pending interrogation and euthanasia. One of his roomies, Anka (Christine Bruno), is also an actress; the other, Fritz (Joe Sims) is a (possibly) black gay man, and the three spend their time together riffing on the layers of reality and fiction they perceive in their histories and relationships.

The riffs include a hesitant romantic back-and-forth between Bruno and Anka, as well as extended commentary on the existential condition by all three characters. Fritz and Anka are eventually taken care of by a nurse (Angela DeMatteo), who wields, first, a huge syringe and then a toy gun.

The play’s exhaustive self-analysis extends to Fritz’s comments on the antipathy between the artistic pose and the solving of “real” problems, like homelessness, hunger, and war, and the (ironic) suggestion that the world has moved beyond irony.

The set consisted of a bloodstained black back wall, on which were projected intertitles and at the foot of which was a platform, where Bruno started out framed in a harsh spotlight, as well as a few chairs. Costumes mostly consisted of pajamas, with accessories like Anka’s straitjacket and Bruno’s wool cap. An effective component of the production was live violin accompaniment (original music composed and performed by Hannah Hens-Piazza), which commented, often humorously, on individual lines and words. Songs and song fragments enlivened this self-described (by admittedly unreliable narrators) cabaret act from hell.

The Visible Theatre Company are to be commended for developing this complex, often funny, and gripping vaudeville. It is veers dangerously close to the rocks of bad taste and irreverence, which means it can simultaneously entertain and provoke thought -- a dangerous combination.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2005 John Chatterton