Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

The hospital staff in an ICU Unit must be fairly impervious to demanding and difficult families. After all, the patients are in extremis and their families are naturally frightened and under enormous pressure. It’s a situation in which even the most serene personality may explode. But I think it’s safe to say that no one at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital is prepared for an encounter with the Seigenfeld Family, the focal point of Fielding Edlow’s world premiere play, ICU.

When we first meet the Seigenfelds, they have been thrown out of their son’s room for creating a disturbance.  As they stalk the waiting room, complaining about the facilities while hurling out old recriminations and new accusations, it becomes clear that disruption is their normal mode of behavior. Ruth (Caroline Aaron), the matriarch, wavers between worrying about her comatose son, Brian (Tony DeCarlo), finding a husband for her daughter, Jenna (Dagney Kerr), and wondering if they should go ahead and use that reservation to the exclusive restaurant they have as Brian is unconscious anyway. Her husband, Siggy (Joe Pacheco), initially seems innocuous with his feeble jokes and roving eye, but he soon unveils a blasé contempt for his children. Not surprisingly with her parentage, Jenna seems more the dependent child than the woman her age suggests.

The Steigenfelds are far too rich, oblivious, and self-involved to care if they have an audience, but they certainly command attention from the people they encounter. Kevyn (Doug Sutherland) shares the waiting room with them and eventually confesses that he knows Brian and has come to make amends. Kate (Ericka Kreutz) is the harried nurse whose work is constantly interrupted by the Steigenfelds, and Dr. Gelber (Shaun Anthony) is the handsome doctor with bedroom eyes who is the dream of every Jewish mother.

If all this commotion around a comatose man sounds depressing, Edlow’s bitingly brutal dialog will keep you laughing, even when the family is at its most jaw-droppingly awful. And, if the zingers seem a bit like retrograde Neil Simon at the beginning, it soon becomes clear that there are darker underpinnings, and we are more in Albee or Nicky Silver territory.

Director Brian Shnipper deftly stages the play in Amanda Knehans’ utilitarian hospital waiting room with the audience sitting around the perimeter: a choice which heightens the voyeuristic aspect of the show. Shnipper understands the style of the piece and coaxes brilliantly unpredictable performances from the entire cast.

Circle X has nurtured this play and launched it with all the care they typically lavish on their productions. They continue to be one of the most interesting and dependable companies in town.

Atwater Village Theatre   September 25 – October 31, 2015