BWW Review: LAZARUS SYNDROME at SNAP! Productions Omaha: The Devil is in the Detail
The last time I visited this quaint little theatre on California Street, my curiosity was piqued by the mention of a book of poetry by Edgar Lee Masters called, "Spoon River Anthology." I borrowed the book from Omaha Public Library and was engrossed in the free verse stories of lives buried in a fictional Illinois town cemetery. If it hadn't been for "ELEGIES," I would never have found this treasure.
I returned to SNAP! Productions to see "LAZARUS SYNDROME." And although the play itself is not among my top ten, I found more to ponder: What is the Lazarus Syndrome? What did Lazarus of the Bible and Emma Lazarus who wrote "The New Colossus" have in common with four men dealing with survivor's guilt?
LAZARUS SYNDROME was penned by Bruce Ward who has some impressive credentials. He has a BA in Theatre, and an MA and MFA in Creative Writing. He acted as the Director of the National AIDS Hotline in the 80s and worked for several years as an AIDS educator. He knows how to tackle this complex issue.
Bruce Ward based this 70 minute play on his own experiences dealing with AIDS. Whereas AIDS used to be an automatic death sentence, advances in science in the mid-nineties changed that to make life possible with the aid of a cocktail mix of medications. Ward used the theme of Lazarus because it insinuates a rebirth from death. But what happens when you've survived and your friends have not?
The play begins with Elliott Liteman (Brett D. Foster), a former concert pianist living with HIV. Elliott goes through his morning routine in mundane detail, but adds twisting the tops of several pill bottles and swallowing a selected handful. When he picks up the morning newspaper and discovers his name (spelled differently) in the obit, the routine is shattered. His partner, Stephen (Thomas Lowe) fails to soothe Elliott's feelings of morbidity, so he puts on his shoes and takes off for an early morning run in the sleet. Stephen is due to head out for a three month stint as a Cassock with speaking lines in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Lights dim. There's an odd lighted outline of what could be a man on the wall and Bam! Bam! Bam! There's a pounding at the door. It's Elliott's brother, Neil (Matt Allen), who has come to check up on him. A second pounding and it's Elliott's father Jake (Brent Spencer) bringing Sabbath dinner in plastic bowls. Now the three prepare the dinner, listen to Yiddish folk music, dance and talk about the meaning of family, life and death.
Not all is as mundane as it seems.
I loved Costume Designer Leah Skorupa's choices for the crazy print robe teamed with boxers, T shirt and those loud socks for Elliott. It represented him as a creative, yet somewhat "what's the point?" kind of guy.
The simple, yet pleasing apartment designed by college student Ben Adams had just enough detail to make it real. The window on the wall was especially nice because of the way it was offset just a little from the wall.
Director M. Michele Phillips guides a very competent four man cast. Each exposes distinct personalities as the morose Elliott, the highly excitable Neil, the youthful actor Stephen-with a "p", and Tveye-esque father Jake.
Spencer is especially endearing as the Jewish father who strives to hold onto his religious traditions. Along with eating, he stresses that people of their faith wander, worry, and suffer. Each person's history of suffering is bested by the next. He also cherishes his family.
This Jewish family talks about Lazarus being resurrected by Jesus. They speak of Emma Lazarus' poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. There is a fine metaphor here. Elliott's tired, huddled mass yearning to break free is resuscitated and liberated by Jewish men. To the question posed by Elliott, "Did Lazarus want to be saved?" If Elliott is Lazarus in this case, I believe he has said, "Yes!"
I almost want to return to the theatre to catch what I missed. The play has much to appreciate and the devil is in the detail. I want to know, for example, why there is mention in the obits about Elliott Lightman who was 67 years old and the same newspaper clipping later reappears for another reason? Why the condo seemingly appears next door in 9 days, blocking the light? The briefcase of heirlooms...why hadn't Elliott ever opened it? Why the brothers are wearing matching loud socks?
There is always something new and interesting happening at SNAP! Their plays do not end in the theatre.
LAZARUS SYNDROME runs through June 24.
Photo Credit: SNAP! Productions