A deep and complex story
Globe’s Mr. Wright is a unique look at medical treatment
Three plays into the Globe Theatre’s Shumiatcher Sandbox series, the Globe Theatre Young Company have taken the stage with The Story of Mr. Wright, a very unique piece.
The play follows a cancer patient by the name of Mr. Wright, whose name is fictitious but whose story is supposedly real. Its plot revolves around the improving and worsening of his condition. Interspersed with these scenes involving Mr. Wright are stories and accounts from the actors’ lives as well as background information and textual references to Mr. Wright’s story.
The play was written by the co-directors and the cast. This allowed for a unique combination of narrative, background facts, personal accounts, and breaking of character. While it is a narrative story, the excerpts from texts and background facts give it a feeling parallel to that of a documentary. This blend of story types also blurs the lines of fact and fiction. Most facts come from one doctor’s account, so are the facts exaggerated? Are the personal stories vulnerable to subjective distortions? At some points it can be quite difficult to figure out these boundaries.
Characterization is quite interesting in this play. Some characters remain played by the same actor throughout the majority of the show, and other characters are played by different actors at different times. Over the course of the show, Mr. Wright is played by multiple actors. This affects the characterization, in that each actor plays Mr. Wright slightly different, either consciously or subconsciously. This allows the audience to view Mr. Wright from multiple directions and establish a three-dimensional character profile.
The tone and mood of the performance varies greatly from scene to scene. Hospital scenes feel very sterile and cold; the repetitious and monotonous beeps and hums of fluorescent lights and heart monitors add to the aseptic hospital room ambience. However, there is a drastic contrast between these scenes and the actors’ monologues.
These stories told by the actors, all of which are supposedly true, are moving, incredibly personal, and intimate. During these scenes, the actors break both their character and the fourth wall and address the audience directly so that it’s less of a soliloquy and more of a personal conversation with a roomful of silent strangers. The actor is no longer a doctor, or a patient, or a nurse, but their ordinary self. At some points during these scenes, there is so much tension in the air that one feels incapable of moving even the slightest until the next scene change. The small stage and seating area, lack of noise, and lack of character all complement this aspect fantastically. It’s fascinating to see the actors’ true emotions come out in these scenes and see how the psychological aspect of the medical diagnosis, treatment, and recovery processes affect them.
Technically speaking, there’s not a whole lot of flash and bang, just some simple lighting, and the quiet hospital noises or soft music to cut scenes or push the tone one way or another, but there was one part that was quite engaging. When Mr. Wright is sick, the actor’s vocals are miked and treated with deep, heavy reverb. Coughs crash and echo loudly, and Mr. Wright’s lines sound dreary, drugged, and as if they are coming from inside the head of a sick person. It’s not particularly fancy, but its effect is indispensable.
The Story of Mr. Wright is an extremely thought-provoking play. It emphasizes the effect that one’s psychological condition has over one’s physical condition and how the two are interdependent. While some, such as a few doctors in the performance, think that it’s simply heresy, the play makes a convincing case otherwise. To do so, it examines everything from the placebo effect to the existence of divine power. While it’s almost impossible to scientifically measure some of the facts from certain personal accounts, they do provide some rather compelling arguments. Whatever stories one chooses to believe, The Story of Mr. Wright is sure to baffle and intrigue its audience.
The Story of Mr. Wright runs from now until Jan. 29 in the Shumiatcher Sandbox theatre. Tickets are $20.