December 18, 2002

the woolly mammoth theater company in dc continues its season with don dilillo's "the day room." if you have enjoyed dilillo's books and like experimental theater, you should check this play out.

less a narrative than connected philosophical musings and existential farce, the day room takes place in a psychiatric ward, which is a great setting for reasons that are discussed by the characters -- there is a quiet, polite dignity around airplanes and hospitals. People are assigned numbers and the temperature is regulated. Wyatt notices: “The Hush of death. On airplanes, in hospitals.” For a long time, the audience and the actors have a difficult time deciding who is the patient and who is the doctor. The actual “day room” is where the seriously insane live. They act out characters based on the clothing they find in closets, and this day room is where the entirety of act two is set.

A scene from Act 1:

Dr. Phelps: But that is what hospitals are for. So a person can follow his disease into the untraviolet light.

Nurse Walker: Disease itself is not unhealthy. We recover from disease.

Dr. Phelps: Disease is not the illness. Disease is just a symptom of the illness.

Wyatt: What is the illness?

Nurse Walker: Knowing that you’re going to die.

Wyatt (To Budge): Why are they saying these things?

Dr. Phelps: Because we have to say something. Because language itself would be enormously impoverished if we didn’t have disease to talk about.

Nurse Walker: Haven’t you ever heard a patient flaunt the terminology of his disease?

Dr. Phelps: They become experts overnight.

Nurse Walker: They feel at home in the language of their disease.

Dr. Phelps: It’s their disease after all.

Nurse Walker: They love to explain the terms to visitors.

Dr. Phelps: We have to name these conditions as they appear and proliferate. We have to design a body of words as vivid and horrifying as the conditions they attempt to describe.

Nurse Walker: If the gravity of the disease is not reflected in the terminology, the patient feels cheated.

Dr. Phelps: We have to stretch the language to its breaking point as people find new ways to die, abrupt and mysterious symptomatologies.

Nurse Walker: Sarcomas

Dr. Phelps: Blastomas.

Nurse Walker: I love the gleam of hospital corridors in the dead of night.

Dr. Phelps (To Wyatt): There is only one center of attention. You ring a bell, someone comes. You cry out in pain, we try to comfort you.

Nurse Walker: We wash your body when you die.

Budge: I have to admit I never thought about what happens after I take my last breath.

Dr. Phelps: Who would wash you body if you’d stayed at home?

Budge: I never thought about the inconvenience I’d be causing.

the play is showing at the AFI theater at the kennedy center through January 12.

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