The Day Room

Don DeLillo's divinely dark comedy, set ostensibly in the day room of a hospital, is exquisitely directed by Victor D'Altorio with a superb ensemble cast. DeLillo is one of the great contemporary American novelists, whose books include Underworld and Great Jones Street, among other explorations of American life. This is one of only a few plays he's written, and it is brilliant in its evocation of the absurdities of reality and its various offshoots.

The story, loosely told, begins with two patients in a semi-private hospital room, Budge (Robert Wightman) and Wyatt (Todd Waring). Of the two, Budge seems to be a lot more hip to what's going on in this very strange place than Wyatt, who is simply "in for tests." After a brief but odd conversation, a parade of patients, doctors, and nurses streams into the room, none of whom are who or what they pretend to be.

Grass (Ian Patrick Williams), tethered to multicolored, psychedelic IVs, expostulates on everything from co-op apartments to parenthood. Grass is soon collared by Doctor Phelps (Keith Bogart) and Nurse Walker (Henrietta Pearsall), who turn out to be neither a doctor nor a nurse, but escapees from the mental ward down the hall. Another nurse (Robin Braxton), who seems to be real, arrives to save the day, followed by another doctor (Robert Pescovitz), who has a medical demeanor but is, unfortunately, yet one more lunatic faking it.

The piece plays like a French farce crossed with a Beckett play, with terrific results. DeLillo throws everything into the mix--hospital anxiety, the vivid experience of mental illness, and, finally, the ultimate nature of reality. It may sound like a serious stew, but it is actually hilarious. D'Altorio is masterful in his staging, bringing a light touch to the farce and to the heavier moments, finally infusing the piece with a sense of metaphysical wonder that is rare in the earthbound theatre of today.

Wightman is lovely and mysterious in his portrayal of Budge, while Waring is dead-on as the innocent patient. Williams is a hoot as the IV-toting Grass, and Pearsall is wonderfully deadpan. Pescovitz is sensational both as the off-kilter doctor and in a later section as a smooth seducer. Others in the cast, including Braxton and Bogart, as well as John Copeland and Rachel LaRosa, are solid. Great credit also to D'Altorio for set design, which echoes beautifully the tone of this outstanding piece.