Inside Montgomery College (MC) Online advertised The Waiting Room by Lisa Loomer as, “a dark comedy about the timeless quest for beauty–and its cost.” Director Dennis Mulligan masterfully animates “Three women from different centuries [who] meet in a modern doctor’s waiting room. Forgiveness from Heaven is an eighteenth-century Chinese woman whose bound feet are causing her to lose her toes. Victoria, a nineteenth-century, tightly corseted English woman suffers from what was commonly known as ‘hysteria.’ Lastly, there’s Wanda, a modern woman from New Jersey who’s having problems with her silicone breasts. Everyone from their husbands, to the doctors, Freud, the drug industry, and even the FDA all come under scrutiny. The Waiting Room is a wild ride through medical and sexual politics, even the politics of the constant battle with breast cancer.
As I entered the theatre I was immediately struck by the set designed by Elizabeth Jenkins-McFadden. Through the use of parallax, simple believable furniture and oversized hospital screens the enormous stage was transformed into a typical medical office waiting lounge. Even the lighting – designed by Lynn Joslin – was integral to the illusion with alternating panels above – resembling fluorescent and drop ceiling tiles. Then I became aware of the sound track designed by Neil McFadden. The assault was obvious. Many of the tracks which objectified body focus used to make me cringe if I heard my kids listening to them. I recognized “Sir Mix A Lot – Baby Got Back” in particular. I appreciated how these three elements; set, lighting, and sound were synchronized to complete the aura. And the actors hadn’t even appeared yet!
Even before the characters come to life, the costumes designed by Peter Zakutansky anchor their individual timeframes. The iconic frock worn by Victoria (Abigail Olshin) was immaculate and spot-on in lush green and ivory. The crimson and gold silk dress worn by Forgiveness from Heaven (Yian Zhang) was spectacularly beautiful. Then we meet Wanda (Diana Gonzalez Ramirez) in a no frills simple wrap dress which barely contains her ample form, befitting her urban in-your-face personality. A big thumbs up!
With the ladies introduced, my next realization was the lack of ‘dark’ between scenes. In fact – the set changes were choreographed to music! People in modern medical office garb: scrubs; lab coats; stethoscopes; business suits; etc. appeared from every entrance moving curtains, pushing furniture, pulling gurneys. They were stepping to the beat of the soundtrack – a continual swirl of music and movement. Absolutely amazing! I don’t know who to thank – no one was listed as choreographer in the program. But the entire cast worked really hard to make each transition obvious and flawless.
Now I have to come clean … the story lost me. Maybe I blocked it out. I cringed at the appearance of an obviously disaffected Dr. Douglas (Cristian Linares) who’s stoic lack of facial expression portrayed years of overwork and lack of emotional satisfaction in his profession as a cosmetic surgeon. Victoria’s repulsive spouse Oliver (Geraden Ward) spews patronizing affection on her to the point of psychological abuse. And creepy/evil Blessings from Heaven (Damon Lue-Maxwell) completes the offense with his perverse obsessions.
The rest of the plot attempts to obviate, explain, clarify, joke, ignore, conjure, scheme, and parody all that is wrong with the industry of cosmetic surgery. I give full credit and appreciation to the rest of the cast: Larry/Johnny the bartender/Orderly (Shaquan Pearson) whose pharmaceutical sales rep focused on his bottom line; Brenda (Rachel Akusa) a Jamaican nurse tasked with keeping everything real; and of course the supporting roles of Bridget/Jade Ornament/Waitress/Masseuse/Orderly (Ruth Diaz), Woman Lawyer/Cherise/Intern (Maddiie Valikohovskaya), and Spa attendant/Cabbie/Masseuse/Nurse Bruce (David Singleton) who continually morphed into multiple characters with blinding speed and dexterity! You all rock!
If “dark comedy” is supposed to leave you with a good case of the willies – then Montgomery College’s The Waiting Room was a resounding hit!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, plus a 20-minute intermission.
The Waiting Room played from November 9-13, 2016, at Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD. For future performances, check their website, or call the box office at (240) 567-5301.