Theater archives

Anesthesia can’t stop Deb Margolin from monologuing


During a public demonstration in 1846, dentist William Morton administered ether to a patient before an operation. The patient announced that he felt nothing, rendering ether a great improvement on previous methods such as downing slugs of whiskey or biting on a stick. Of his invention, Morton remarked, “The state should, I think, be called ‘anesthesia.’ This signifies insensibility.” Or it ought to. Before a recent operation, the performance artist Deb Margolin received anesthesia, but it hardly rendered her insensible! Margolin’s doctor later informs her that after the needle went in, Margolin talked for 12 minutes straight. She “wouldn’t shut up.” When the doctor told her, “You won’t remember any of this,” she responded defiantly, “O yes I will. I will remember the spirit and texture of this conversation.”

But Margolin does not remember. (Her only clue: The doctor mentions that “George Bush came up.”) In O Yes I Will at Dixon Place, Margolin attempts to re-create those lost minutes. After a brief introduction, she offers four distinct versions of what she said while semiconscious. Clad in a black-satin nightie, she capers around the stage as her mind ping-pongs from childhood memories to Buddhist koans to complaints about New Jersey. Though some sections prove more entertaining than others, Margolin neatly portrays the giddiness one might feel when the superego is told to take a hike—and the fear when it returns. Happily, Margolin is not a fearful performer. In this short, somewhat slight piece, she enjoys imagining what she might have revealed, whom she might have propositioned or insulted. Even when she’s “out of it,” Margolin is delightfully into it.