Deathbed dramas are challenging, because action is limited and the outcome is all but assured. Playwright Keith Hamilton based this 100-minute work on his teenage battles with Hodgkin's disease. Too many early scenes are clogged with unnecessary exposition, and Casey DeFranco's direction is clunky. But it's a mixed bag, because a few scenes, thanks to a couple of solid performances, are believable and touching-just not enough to overcome the lack of a cohesive, well-crafted story.
In the semiprivate room of a progressive hospital in upstate New York, we meet Andrew (Joseph Bisoglio), who has terminal cancer, and newcomer to the ward Billy (Hamilton), who has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's. Andrew's latest relapse has left him with few options, according to Dr. Lewis (Bob Larkin). His mother, Karen (Joanne McGee), leaves for Toronto to locate Andrew's father in hopes he might be a match for a bone marrow transplant. Billy is a tough guy angry with his fiancée, Gwen (Sharon Bailey), because of her attitude when he fell ill. But Andrew, who has a crush on Nurse Gina (Annika Marks), uses humor to get Billy to open up. The young men, through illness and hope, bond.
The script, in particular the first act, is loaded with soap opera-like scenes. Karen yells at the doctor and nurse that they don't know how much she loves her son. When Gwen says to Billy, "I'm here to see you," he responds, "Well, you've seen me." But the simple moments are effective, such as when Andrew and Billy are listening to music or when everyone throws a surprise birthday party for Billy. Bisoglio's natural, honest performance as Andrew substantially elevates the quality of Pipeman, and veteran comic actor Jack Riley, as a patient who has some form of dementia, offers needed humor. But too often DeFranco's direction leaves actors unsure of where to stand or how to move. Pipeman fails when it tries to fit the model of a deathbed drama, and it succeeds when it allows the characters room to breathe. It's too bad there aren't enough of those moments.
Presented by Traplight Productions at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Apr. 14-May 21. (323) 960-1053. www.plays411.com/pipeman.