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A CurtainUp Review

Hansen's Cab

Don't let that choreography credit in the production notes fool you. Sharon Halley, the choreographer listed, is responsible for guiding the movements of an Indian Shaman (or rather a part Apache archaeologist all dressed up to perform a ritual healing dance). On the other hand, maybe a little more dancing might have compensated for the lack of cohesiveness and credibility in Mark R. Giesser's new play, Hansen's Cab.

The play can best be described as faction -- the characters are made up, the situation stems from research on the treatment of Hansen's Disease victims. The premise is a potentially interesting one: It's 1958 and Jennifer Talavera (Heather Randall), a young woman diagnosed with Hansen's Disease, has been forcibly taken from her home to be transported to the government facility for leprosy victims in Carville, Louisiana. Her guardians are Arthur and Florence Gateman (Avrom Berel and Melissa Hart) and when they stop their trailer at the site of a former Apache village, Jennifer runs off to the mountains and meets up with a man (John Wayne Shafer playing the above mentioned Apache archeologist) who pits his spiritual healing powers against medical wisdom.

So far so good. One can even see why the playwright thought he was onto a timely as well as emotionally powerful situation. After all, while modern medicine improved the plight of victims of this disease which dates back to 1350 B.C. and ended forced incarceration, there are parallels in our initial response to the AIDS epidemic and the increased interest in alternative healing methods.

Unfortunately, it adds up to a mish-mash of a play that tries to accomplish too much and pretty much shows itself to be going nowhere by the intermission.

Not trusting Jennifer's story to be enough to engage us, the playwright has given us a second plot that centers around the Gatemans whose dysfunctional marriage is like something out of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. There are, in fact, times when this feels as if Jennifer's story is the subplot and that this is really all about the disgraced Dr. Arthur and his angry and desperate wife whom he met when she was an ambulance driver during World War II. As for the battle between science and spiritual belief, this is also pretty fuzzy, though the healing ritual in which the masked Shaman brings out a colored stetoscope and other medical examination instruments is amusing. To add to the melodramatic overload, Melissa Hart is also required to depart from her unhappy present for a dreamlike sequence as Jennifer's mother-in-law. There's also a gun which figures in the unbelievable and unsatisfying ending.

The fatal flaw with Hansen's Cab is that it lacks personal passion. It smacks too much of a story concocted from a news story without sufficient research to create anything but cardboard characters.

The staging, given the size of this theater, is quite nice and the actors do their best with the cards they've been dealt . Too bad none of them gets a winning hand.

Written and Directed by Mark R. Giesser
Assistant Director: Steven Ditmyer
Cast: Heather Randall, Melissa Hart, Avrom Berel, John Wayne Schafer
Set Design: John C. Scheffler
Lighting Design: Aaron Meadow
Costume Design: Melanie Ann Schmidt
Choreography: Sharon Halley
Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, including one intermission
Jose Quintero Theatre, 534 W. 42nd St (9th/10th Avs)244-7529
Performances from 4/28/200-5/28/2000 ; opening 5/09/2000

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 5/04 performance

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