|Laughter is the best medicine--and it's the only one
likely to do any good for the patients at Bruno Hauptman
Memorial, the totally incompetent hospital at the center
of the dark comedy Goner. Renegade Theatre Experiment
continues its season with the West Coast premiere of
this absurd comedy by playwright Brian Parks. Goner
opens June 11 in San Jose.
The eccentric doctors at Hauptman hospital in Washington,
D.C., may be good for a laugh, but they are decidedly
bad for good health, and more's the pity for President
Waterford Novi, who, after being seriously wounded
in an assassination attempt, arrives at the hospital
in need of treatment.
Certainly, the doctors at the hospital had a lot
going on before the wounded president showed up, though
few of their activities had anything to do with the
practice of medicine. The hospital staff was more
interested in the diversions of office romance, hobbies--such
as playing the glockenspiel--and entrepreneurial schemes,
like one involving a line of Barbie dolls designed
for chemotherapy patients. The head of the hospital
once was an adherent to a post-modern theory of medicine,
in which patients don't exist.
"All of the characters are a bit off, which makes
it interesting," says Peter Canavese, director of
Goner and a co-founder of Renegade Theatre Experiment. "They're self-involved and misguided a
lot of the time, so they're sort of likeable, I guess,
in that they're hopelessly naÔve. But they make a
lot of poor choices. There's a lot of bad judgment
on display in the play, and I think that's kind of
invigorating to watch. I think we're used to plays
where you have the comfort of knowing that the characters
will find their way to do the right thing, and in
this play, all bets are off."
The character of President Novi, too, is no stranger
to really bad judgment. "The president, we learn,
when we meet him, is a worst-nightmare kind of president,"
says Canavese. Citing the character's rampant racism,
sexism and general egomania, he says, "There might
be some mixed feelings amongst the audience when he
gets shot. And there's panic in the hospital about
trying to save the president, but there's a sinking
feeling as the show goes on, because the doctors are
so distracted and wacky."
Goner was presented in Edinburgh's Fringe
Festival in 2002, where it received very positive
reviews. The festival is also where Canavese encountered
Goner. "I was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
in Scotland a couple years ago," he says, "and I saw
the play, and I instantly thought it would be great
for Renegade Theatre Experiment, because it was very
different and fast-paced and funny and it had a good
edge to it, which is something that is part of our
mission--to bring unusual and different, edgy works
to Bay Area theater."
With the current political climate, staging a comedy
that includes a presidential assassination attempt
might seem like artistic suicide, but Goner,
as one can discern from the various characters' off-the-wall
behavior and bizarre bÍte noires, doesn't necessarily
bear much resemblance to reality as we know it.
"I think we're somewhat lucky in that we're coming
on the heels of City Lights doing Assassins.
And we just worked with them," says Canavese, noting
the current production by a fellow San Jose company
of a Stephen Sondheim musical about the psychology
of presidential assassins and would-be assassins.
Additionally, Canavese says that the central storyline
isn't grist for the political mill so much as just
a vehicle for an absurd comedy. "What I've also been
saying is that it isn't really a very political play.
It does have satirical elements and one of them is
this bad president, but really, funny is nonpartisan,"
says Canavese. "It's just a silly comedy and it's
about people. It's really about 'we're all going to
die,' which sounds like a ridiculous subject for a
comedy, but it really is about that, it's about mortality
and how it's a mistake to take anything too seriously
because we're all going to the same place."
Renegade Theatre Experiment presents Goner June
1126 (previews June 10) at Benson Theatre, Bellarmine
College Preparatory, 895 Emory Ave., San Jose. Tickets
are $10$18. For more information, call 408.351.4440
or visit http://www.renegadetheatre.com/.
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