Review: ‘Side Effects’ at Taffety Punk Theatre Company

In a simple bold setting, a man in a hurry is running late. He is answering his phone, head skewed at an angle to balance between shoulder and cheek. At the same time, he handles a slim file folder with papers and forms, lots of forms. We wait for the inevitable to happen, those papers gracelessly slipping away from containment to pool at his feet.

Michael Milligan, actor and playwright. Photo by Teresa Castracane

This is the less than comfortable atmosphere that surrounds actor and playwright Michael Milligan’s Side Effects, a driving and nuanced solo production about the health care system. As Dr. William MacQueen, Michael Milligan delivers a passionate performance about the conflicted complexities, doctor-patient relationship, generational changes, economic considerations, and ethical responsibilities confronting doctors and the medical profession. Presented by Taffety Punk Theatre Company with Poor Box Theater, Side Effects is directed by Tom Oppenheim.

Dr. MacQueen has arrived at the law office of Paul Blackburn, an old friend, to ask advice. On the verge of composure and crisis, oddly in opposition, yet part of the same, Dr. MacQueen peels at the details. He must be composed and confident with patients, strong with his knowledge to guide in the most vulnerable of moments. At the next breath, crisis lurks in the misreading of a test, a fine line of lost concentration, or exhaustion that consumes clear thought and confident decision. He is confronted with the revolving requirements of insurers, the lack of time with patients and family, and the crippling guilt of human error. Told with a directed gaze and gestures that physicalize the odds, he talks himself in circles, shading the layers of indecision.

Lighting by Katie McCreary opens the small space and the eye settles on the warmth of the lamp, the specifics of the room. An area rug marks the boundaries; the arrangement of comfortable chair, table, and bookcase forms a good place to talk, confessional and therapeutic, a place to lift a toast to a father-son family practice and how things have changed. Sound by Marcus Kyd is subtle to briefly introduce. The clock ticks. We are waiting.

Michael Milligan has taken a substantial challenge. Writing from collected interviews with doctors from around the country, Milligan has spoken with physicians who normally don’t have time to talk, created a picture of these professionals as people and most successfully, has gotten to the heart of the matter.

Taffety Punk Theatre Company has taken on the mission of making theatre affordable. Poor Box Theater shares this simple approach, and the best we can hope for is health care to drop the complexity, and do the same.

Running Time: 65 minutes, with no intermission

Side Effects plays through June 3, 2017, at Taffety Punk Theatre Company performing at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th Street SE, Washington, DC.  For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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