Lisa Hayes brings one of her acclaimed one-woman shows to Baltimore with NURSE!, a compelling story of a labor strike from a variety of perspectives. Embodying numerous distinct characters, Hayes portrays the journey of a group of hospital nurses who stand up for better, safer conditions for themselves and the patients in their care by unionizing and going on strike. Though Hayes debuted NURSE! off-Broadway in 2003, this must-see Charm City Fringe Festival offering is as timely as if it had been written this year.
My favorite characters include Sue, the initially reluctant leader of the nursing strike; Lilly, a nurse who didn’t originally vote for the strike but who becomes radicalized by it; and Pat, a nurse and single mother who is trying to make ends meet and be a good parent despite a job with unexpected, compulsory overtime. We also get to see the strike through the eyes of others affected by it: hospital workers, management, and the families of those striking. As Jimmy, the teenage son of a striking nurse explains in a monologue that left me teary, the whole family participates in a strike; necessary sacrifices impact everyone.
Hayes does an excellent job of making her characters easily distinguishable. Simple costume variations like the addition of a jacket or a hat and the use of relevant accents create distinctions. Hayes does some impressive physical work, as well. Of particular note are the teenage energy of Jimmy, the striking nurse’s son, and the world-weary quirks of the Federal Mediator assigned to negotiate between the striking nurses and management.
Times like now, it’s important to remember that there is strength in solidarity. Lisa Hayes’s NURSE! is not only a well-acted, enjoyable show, it is the kind of reminder we need. It’s also a call to action – to value nurses and all workers who toil for the common good, to remain informed about issues such as healthcare and fair business practices, and to be engaged in the fight for social and economic justice. (PS: Please vote on Tuesday!)
Based on two years of research and interviews, NURSE! was written and is performed by Lisa Hayes. It is directed by Annie Levy and produced by Theodore Manekin.
Running Time: One hour, with no intermission.