You don’t need a degree in semiotics to locate symbolism in the titles of this summer’s Ice Factory lineup, the last that Soho Think Tank will produce at the soon-to-be-shuttered Ohio Theatre. As artistic director Robert Lyons prepares to move on from the space in which he’s spent 20 years, he’s programmed pieces such as Lenora Champagne’s Staying Afloat, the TEAM’s Mission Drift (August 4 through 7), and, in a more optimistic spirit, Matthew Earnest’s Wanderlust. The festival closes on a darker note, with Lyons’s play Nostradamus Predicts the Death of Soho (August 11 through 14). Padding out the middle of the festival are Hater, directed and translated by Samuel Buggeln, which perhaps indicates anger at the closure, and Half Straddle’s Nurses in New England, which suggests the festival’s need for TLC.
With Hater, a new translation of Molière’s The Misanthrope, Buggeln earns high marks for style and rather lower ones for substance. His paraphrase of the original French dispenses with jaunty rhymes and favors rough language: Audiences can amuse themselves wondering about the Gallic equivalents of “that little slut, “what a bunch of assholes,” and “I love having that moron hump my leg.” The set, designed by Daniel Zimmerman, is a black-and-white confection resembling a baroque nightclub—think Versailles with bottle service. On the narrow stage, various courtiers pout, flaunt, and vogue, much to the dismay of Alex (Nick Dillenburg), the sneerer of the play’s title.
As Alex explains, “I have this terrible over-honesty problem.” He finds himself sickened by the hypocrisy around him and is desperate to expose it, which makes him absolutely zero fun at parties. However, he’s fallen for Celine (Zoë Winters), a woman of such profound artifice that she makes Paris Hilton appear natural and demure. This setup has obvious contemporary resonances, but Buggeln more or less ignores them, save in the costumes and colloquialisms. Otherwise, it’s Molière very much as writ—not a bad thing, but not an inventive one, either. Unlike the recent Ivo van Hove version of the play, Buggeln fails to turn up much in the way of subtext or to refresh the action. One wants to relish so modish a production, but my own over-honesty problem prevents it.
If Alex despises his fellow man, the sisters of Half Straddle’s Nurses in New England, written and directed by Tina Satter, seek to aid him. Or her. Or it. As Doctor Derek Shepherd (Jess Barbagallo), Female Head of Surgery, says, “Putney Hill Hospital exists to serve the sick, the dying, most of the time the human, those who can’t help themselves.” In this strange play, more or less a musical, a team of nurses and one male orderly triage victims of tire-swing accidents and rescue various marine mammals, performing bizarre procedures such as “sketzel repairs,” “fasciotomies,” and a “triple bypass-ampu-trangle.” (And since when do nurses operate anyway?) Off-duty, they smoke and clean the whiskers of seals.
The plot, thin like a hospital gown, revolves around an old romance between Shepherd and Nurse Lois Lewis (Annie McNamara), a new one between Lewis and an EMT (Erin Markey), and the arrival of an uptight intern. Otherwise, the play boils down to ditties by untrained singers, improbable medical terms, and a really cute stuffed walrus. Though charming, it feels like a piece still in rehearsal instead of a finished script. Perhaps Satter can prescribe it some “septismack” or “fliaxal” and plenty of bed rest.