Subject 62

nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 14, 2013

Lenny Schwartz's new play Subject 62 is about a man suffering from Huntington's Disease who undergoes what the playwright aptly describes as a "surreal experiment" in hopes of attaining a cure. Though the play provides a pretty horrific glimpse of what it might be like to be trapped with this disease (read about its symptoms here; there's no cure), it is finally kind of astonishingly life affirming. Chris, the young man afflicted with Huntington's who is "Subject 62" of the experiment in the play, is filled with love and hope, and these see him through his ordeal.

The script traces, in nonlinear and increasingly manic fashion, Chris's experience while he undergoes an experimental and possibly dangerous treatment that may eventually enable doctors to find a cure for his disease. The play happens inside his mind, as we witness his memories replay, often confused and distorted, and then disappear. Along the way, we meet most of the important people who have figured in Chris's life, including his brother Paul, his ex-fiancée Ellen, and his boss Jack (Chris is, we are told, a dazzlingly talented comic book artist). Others flash back from his distant past, and of course doctors and nurses drift in and out of Chris's (un)consciousness as the treatment progresses.

Throughout, there's another, mysterious presence who is haunting all of Chris's memories: a woman named Nicole, who is at once the least familiar and most intimately connected of all. Chris's discovery of who Nicole really is turns out to be the most important throughline in the story.

Schwartz's play is smart and deeply moving, without ever playing for sentiment or cheap emotion. It's about life and its value; and it's about hard choices: a significant thread running through it, for example, has to do with Chris's (and others') lack of health insurance despite living in a country that's generally regarded as one of the richest and most democratic on earth. (I should mention that, in the spirit of Planet Connections' philosophy of reaching out to charitable causes, proceeds from this run of Subject 62 are going to the Huntington's Disease Society of America.)

Schwartz directs the play himself, and the production—on a bare stage with just one set piece and a few props—is taut and expert. He's devised a lovely, simple method for depicting the way that memories are erased from Chris's brain that's enormously effective.

The ensemble of 11 actors—all of whom have journeyed with the playwright from Rhode Island—do fine work here, with Brad W. Kirton the play's fully realized center as the embattled Chris and Missy Marine perfectly supportive yet enigmatic as Nicole. Noteworthy turns are provided by David Adams Murphy as the doctor in charge of the experiment, Mat Clerrico as Chris's brother, and Elyssa Baldassarri as Chris's ex, Ellen (she has some lovely moments hear the end where we finally understand what this young woman has lost and what it's cost her).

Subject 62 has just two more shows at Planet Connections, and I highly recommend that you catch one of them if you can. And happily, Lenny has published the play on Indie Theater Now, so a longer life for this intelligent and insightful work will be possible.

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