nytheatre.com review by Nicholas Linnehan
August 21, 2011
Cancer. The word makes you tremble. So playwright Mark Jason Williams, in his new piece Recovery, has his work cut out for him. How do you write a play about people battling leukemia without turning it into a sob-fest, which might make the audience disengage? Fortunately Williams has discovered how to do this by finding ironic humor in his darkly themed play. He doesn't portray his characters as victims, but instead reminds us that they are all very much like us, despite having leukemia.
The play's main plot follows Michael, played by the adept Brian J. Carter, and Kathleen, played equally well by Elena Zazanis. The two meet during a routine chemotherapy treatment and we are taken on a journey as these two lonely souls struggle to connect, despite their terminal illnesses. Carter is charming and sincere, which makes the audience fall in love with him right from the start. Carter plays Michael with such honest exuberance that it's no wonder why the battle-scared Kathleen is eventually won over by his undeniable charisma. Their story of battling cancer is a backdrop for their true fight—learning and being courageous enough to love. Zazanis plays Kathleen with great conviction. We quickly learn that her sarcasm and condescension is nothing more than a mere defense mechanism, which she uses to protect herself from feeling vulnerable, and therefore, possibly being hurt. We totally relate to Michael's yearning for love and Lucille's fears, which makes us root for these characters, not just pity them. This in a tribute to Williams, Carter, Zazanis, and director Andrew Block.
Throughout the play, Kathy Searle and Dan Patrick Brady play various men and women who tell their own stories about battling leukemia. These vignettes are well acted, but seem a bit excessive and take us away from the meat of the play. Similarly, there is a love affair between Dr. Greg Bestar and the nurse Lucille. I was less interested in their story as I don't feel that the play is about them. So when Lucille reveals that she herself is a cancer survivor, it seemed contrived and very theatrical in a play that had great “real” characters. I felt like I was at a great restaurant with a stunning main course that was diminished by side orders that weren't needed. I hope that Williams will streamline his story and focus on the beautiful journey of Michael and Kathleen as they fight terminal and personal spiritual death.
Overall, Recovery has a great raw emotional, universal quality that I hope will be further developed by trimming away the subplots. I was very moved by this production and loved seeing people living with cancer, not people just rolling over and dying. Perhaps their internal fight for love and companionship is where the true recovery happens.