Theater: Oh you naughty nurse!

Amy Danielson

It’s getting hot in here. The fans blow, but do not assist in cooling us. From behind a clear plastic curtain decorated with rubber hospital gloves, performer John Francis Bueche saunters in. He wears an unconventional nurse’s uniform: high heels, white fishnet stockings, a tiny black plastic skirt emblazoned with two little red crosses (which Bueche often tugs at to keep from exposing himself) and a black halter top that shows off his hairy midriff.

Bueche speaks, but his words don’t make much logical sense. Hovering above a thin, hollow-cheeked patient (Jon Mac Cole), Bueche duct tapes the man’s mouth from chin to nose. “Now you can’t speak,” Bueche says, “but I can. So our conversation will be very one-sided. The solution is: Change one’s consciousness of time, so that in the past, and even in the future, your words are part of the conversation we’re having in the present.”

The entire cast of Emergency! All I Have is Half of Nothing and Zero, the newest production from West Bank’s anarchic Bedlam Theater collective, possesses an elusive quality. From an orderly who speaks in a monotone voice, rolls ladders up to cabinets, opens them and declares, “The book is here,” to a crazy doctor who psychologically torments her patient while dry-humping the nurse. All spew out dialogue from the notebooks of New York avant garde playwright Richard Foreman, founder of the Ontological Hysterical Theater. And perhaps here is a reason why the dialogue in this production seems nonsensical. Foreman habitually scribbles dialogue in notebooks every morning, in no particular form and without character assignments to the lines. Foreman then publishes these jottings on his Web site for theaters to use freely, which the Bedlam Theater has done, and their interpretation of the Foreman’s text is wicked.

Adapters Bueche and Andrew Wagner seem to have borrowed Foreman’s approach to play construction. Specifically: Find some blocks of text that relate to each other in some thematic way, paste them together, create characters and situations (and, in Bedlam’s case, insert eerie organ music and voice-overs). As Foreman explains, “The relationship is not narrative, but loosely thematic, in a very poetic sense, even in simply an ‘intuited’ way.” The result here is an omnium-gatherum of phrases scattered into the scenario of a man’s psychological trauma.

Once again we witness the experimental gusto offered by the Bedlam. They never cease to push the boundaries of the theatergoing experience. As with Terminus, their last production, Emergency! explores the introspective nature of the human mind and the boundaries between reality and our perception of reality. The resulting dialogue should sound like unfathomable philosophical rambling, but instead, in this production, it sounds like the set-up to a particularly silly joke: “If a duck enters a delicatessen,” Bedlam’s doctor asks, “is it eaten?”

 

Emergency! All I Have is Half of Nothing and Zero plays through July 28 at the Bedlam Theater, 504 Cedar Ave., Mpls.; (612) 341-1038.