BWW Review: Theater J's ROZ AND RAY is in Critical Condition

BWW Review: Theater J's ROZ AND RAY is in Critical Condition

With the nation suffering from an opioid epidemic and debate about Obamacare still raging, this would be the perfect time for a gripping medical drama. Enter Karen Hartman's Roz and Ray, which opened Monday night at Theater J. Unfortunately the patient, and I'm not referring to a character onstage, is in critical condition.

Great medical dramas, whether they are onstage or screen, must be equipped with two things: a sense of urgency and characters that heighten the situation. Think The Normal Heart, which despite taking place over several years, never loses a constant sense of immediacy. Roz and Ray is the antithesis of that; a slow medical slog filled with melodrama and moments of unfailingly bad humor.

It's tragic because there are some striking ethical questions about healthcare, insurance, and doctor-patient relationships that permeate the play. Roz and Ray also presents a side of the AIDS crisis we rarely hear about: patients, including children, being infected through bad blood transfusions. Add to that the issues of duplicitous practices being engaged in by pharmaceutical companies and their brokers, and Roz and Ray is suddenly immensely relevant to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Where Hartman goes wrong is both in the setup of the play and her focus on the relationship between Dr. Kagan (Susan Rome) and Ray (Tom Story), a single father whose sons she is treating for hemophilia. The play bounces between 1976 and 1991, robbing us of any suspense. However, the focus on Roz and Ray is ultimately what dooms the play. It is not the doctor-patient relationship which causes problems, but rather the will-they-won't-they get together that plagues much of the second half.

One area Hartman does get right is Dr. Kagan's compassion and empathy for her patients, especially Ray's children. The result is a fascinating dilemma about whether Dr. Kagan cares too much to be objective in treating her patients. We all want a doctor who cares, but is it possible that their emotional care interferes with their medical perspective?

Again, this could be a gripping question. Instead, Hartman veers off into issues of Ray's sexuality and mental stability, Roz's failed marriage, and their constant flirtation, leading the play into the ICU.

Susan Rome is wonderful, as always, as Dr. Roz. Her performance is one of compassion and commitment, empathy and intelligence. She has no problem convincing you that she is Dr. Roz and of her expertise. As Ray, Story is fine, but his character is the more problematic of the two. Too often during very dramatic scenes his character will make a quip or one liner. And those lines are stale, often mild observations about the situation, at best.

Director Adam Immerwahr does his best to keep a heightened sense of crisis during the medical scenes, but gets bogged down when the play turns to the personal relationship between the characters. One element that must be praised is Debra Booth's sterile set design. From the cold metal desk, to the bland floor tiles, she nails the hospital setting.

Theater J's production is the fourth time Roz and Ray has been produced. In his opening night remarks Immerwahr, who also serves as Theater J's Artistic Director, mentioned that the play has undergone revisions since its last production. Based on Monday's performance, more rewrites are needed. There is a great drama in Roz and Ray, but only if the focus is less on Roz and Ray and more about what brought them together, healthcare.

Runtime is 90 minutes with no intermission

Roz and Ray runs thru April 29th at Theatre J - 1529 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20036. For tickets please call (202) 777-3210 or click here.

Photo: Susan Rome & Tom Story. Credit: Theater J.


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From This Author Benjamin Tomchik

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