What sort of fear is healthy in our world? How safe can we be without losing our minds?
These are among the many questions director Gregory Hans Keiser (COL ‘16) and his team tackle in their production of Zayd Dohrn’s Sick. The story taps into post-9/11 fears and insecurities, questioning just how cautious we should be in a decaying world.
From the moment the audience enters the theatre, you feel trapped. The beautiful, towering set—painted a sterile and haunting shade of blue—glares at you, pulling you in as another patient in the bizarre quarantine. The cast filling the set proves small but mighty. A talented group of five tackles a complex and dialogue-heavy piece. Facing the challenge of playing the parents of their peers, Thomas Shuman (COL ‘17) and Arianne Price (SFS ‘15) give standout performances.
Their confidence and vigor grow with each spousal conflict, with Shuman’s Sydney doing everything he can to live a normal life while Price’s Maxine shelters herself in the confines of her disinfected fortress.
Olivia Duff (COL ‘16) and Conor Ross (COL’16) play their children, withdrawn from the danger their mother fears in the carcinogenic outside world. Duff’s Sarah has talent and ambition but knows nothing of taking action for herself; Ross’ Davey provides comic relief but also stands in as an affirmation of his mother’s rampant panic.
Duff and Ross show strong chemistry throughout, creating a believable and moving sibling relationship. Rounding out the talented cast is Albert Scerbo (COL ‘15), tasked with observing and reacting to the family as Jim, Sydney’s promising student thrust into the family’s dysfunction. In many ways, Jim stands in for the population at large, aware of clear and present dangers but unsure of how much weight to assign them.
Scerbo carries a heavy load well, showing off some comedic chops in early scenes with Shuman before taking on heavier fare with Duff late in the second act.
Along with the wildly talented cast, the script and its material leave a mark. Keiser notes that the play is a lot more about 9/11 for older viewers while we the children of these events associate more with communicable disease. Regardless of your age or 9/11 experience, the show remains provocative.
The script has numerous bits of ire and wit, but its contemplative silences may be its strongest feature. Dohrn’s play challenges the limits of both caution and sanity, for the players and audience alike.
Producer Nicole Chenelle (COL ‘15) calls the work “frighteningly relevant,” and it’s hard to deny considering recent events such as the Ebola outbreak and even Monday’s Metro tragedy. And while not everyone has a personal connection to 9/11 and many people have no Ebola-induced fear, Sick connects on a broader level, pushing us to consider where we draw the line between fear and paranoia, between physical sickness and mental illness.
Just as importantly, the play reminds us just how talented and impactful our peers can be. Reflecting on her final Georgetown role, Price proudly asserted, “Student theatre can remind people what matters.”
Sick showcases talent across a variety of mediums, but it also touches on themes that will continue to resonate as the world simultaneously modernizes and weaponizes.
The world has changed in innumerable ways in the past thirteen years, but popular fears endure, as does the play’s relevance.
Devine Studio Theatre
January 15-17, 8p.m., 21-24, 8p.m.