BWW Review: DNR at Living Room Theatre
The lights come up in a typical hospital patient room complete with the expected beeping monitors and infusers. Former Navy corpsman Bud McNamara (Gary Neal Johnson) lies sleeping in the hospital bed. The door opens and in walks Amanda Kalowsky (Jen Mays). Amanda is a hospital volunteer. She has agreed to comfort patients who are alone and terminal.
And that is the basic setup to Victor Wishna's new play, "DNA" now enjoying its world premiere engagement at The Living Room Theatre in Kansas City's Crossroads District. "DNA" is a comedy (albeit a dark one) told in four scenes with a twist in the final stanza.
Life has not been kind to Bud since his Viet Nam era discharge from the military. He has endured challenges with alcohol, drugs, diabetes, and congestive heart failure. Now a hospital in-patient, Bud has decided continued life is just not worth the trouble. He has executed a Do Not Resuscitate "DNR" order on his medical records.
Amanda (Mays) is a divorced step-mother of two and represents herself as a breast cancer survivor. She has volunteered to comfort terminally ill patients. Amanda is a good person with a significant educational background based on the allusions she makes to Kafka and others.
Bud (Johnson) is a crusty soul with a sarcastic, dry sense of humor. He pretends not to want to be bothered with Amanda. In truth, he has asked for a companion. Amanda will not accept Bud's abuse of her as a reason to quit. She will not abandon him and slowly breaks through his combative exterior. We learn something of Bud and something of Amanda.
Dr. Kramer (Shawna Pena Downing) visits Bud to discuss his DNR order. Amanda is surprised to discover that while Bud is very ill, he is not necessarily terminal. With proper care, he can recover. The Doctor hesitates to speak with Amanda in the room, but Bud introduces her as his sister.
An emergency medical crisis follows. A not yet diagnosed ulcer perforates and puts Bud into painful sepsis. Bud is taken away for emergency surgery. Amanda is not going to let Bud die. As his supposed sister, she attempts to withdraw the DNR. Dr. Kramer reveals that she knows who Amanda really is and also that she has broken through to Bud. He has already withdrawn the DNR himself.
At this point, I'm not going to take you any further into the story. I won't ruin the twist. You need to see "DNR" for yourself.
Victor Wishna has an interesting sense of humor dialog and a better sense of pathos. He is a Stanford graduate and an MFA graduate of the New Theatre. He is the author of a number of plays and winner of a number of new play competitions.
Gary Neal Johnson and Jen Mays are fine actors with very good senses of comic timing, the toughest acting challenge of a piece like this one. Shawna Pena Downing as Dr. Kramer adds necessary exposition at points during the long one act play (80 minutes) and plays her part competently and reliably.
Director Rusty Sneary offers a fine vision of the playwright's intention. Since Victor is around for the rehearsal and performance period, I sure this was a team effort.
As is often the case with a successful play still in development, the "DNR" you see may not be the final version that ends up either off or on Broadway in a few years, but this initial performance effort is something that is certainly worth your time. This inventive, surprising, and entertaining notion of a new play continues at The Living Room through September 22. Tickets are available online at www.thelivingroom.com.
Photos courtesy of "The Living Room Theatre."