The Hippocratic Oath states that the doctor will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism. “Entropy General,” written by the Alive Theatre’s own Ryan McClary, directed by Turner Munch, and given its world premiere at the MADhouse, nails the first one. By no stretch of the imagination is there overtreatment for the beleaguered patients at Entropy General. The second, therapeutic nihilism, well, that’s something else altogether. The remedy? The biblical “Doctor, Heal Thyself” doesn’t apply here, not by a long shot.
Proving that laughter is the best medicine, the production presents the story of the first day at work for Intern (Ryan Phillips) at Entropy General, a hospital-as-metaphor for all this is wrong, not just with the health care system, but with bureaucracy and human nature. It’s not an anodyne TV sitcom about the underbelly of a medical practice; that much we glean from the opening in which Cassie the Corpse (Ashley Allen), supine and dead on her gurney, sits up to tell us how, as per a thermodynamic law of physics, life not only lacks predictability but it also tends toward disorder. What, then, do doctors do? Here they make us laugh. (And insurance? It makes us bleed).
With brakes-out, no-use-steering direction and acting that comically unhinges the brain pan, the production features a Chief (McClary) who hates to administer, a Pedetrician (Aurea Tomeski) who can’t stand children, Wolfe (Nick Williams) and Hunter (Aaron Van Geem) who elude the ambient lunacy with a vaudeville act, a Drug Rep (Allen) who’s perky because she gets to leave, and patients who want to feel better but won’t ever leave; alive, at least. There are office romances, Murphy’s Law proof that each employee rises to her level of incompetence, alliances forged for the sake of expediency (just like in jail), and the newcomer who goes from dewy to flummoxed to jaded in one short morning.
The cast appreciates, indeed, relishes the story’s dysfunctional, devolution-to-chaos timbre. Tossing bedside manner and professionalism out the window, some of the characters embrace the entropy. Though Tomeski leaves us no doubt where she stands on the issue of children, she engages in a body bag kanoodle (presumably with protection) with stolid Pathologist (Andrew Eiden). McClary’s Chief (McClary) registers bureaucratic despair when he’s swamped by a Niagara of paperwork. Allen’s Drug Rep brings the manic action to a grinding halt with her seagull entrance and exit.
Others simply adapt to it, like any rational, self-serving organism. Wolfe (Nick Williams) and Hunter (Aaron Van Geem), joined at the hip or at least the funny bone, turn their daily rounds into Catskills shtick while a trio of terminally ill children, which includes an adorable Joey (a little boy played by a woman, Maria Ashna), discover that imagination is the antidote for maltreatment euphemistically called “camping.”
Performances are May 13-14, 27-28, Fri.-Sat, 8pm and May 14 & 28, 2pm. The show runs until May 28. Tickets are $15-18. The MADhouse is located at 624 Pacific Ave. For more info call 818-7364 or visit www.alivetheatre.org.