Off-Broadway Review: “Sympathy in C” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “Sympathy in C” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Wednesday, August 16, 2017)
Written by Suzanne Mernyk
Directed by Terry Hanson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Suzanne Mernyk’s “Sympathy in C,” currently running at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, is an engaging symphony for six actors and two musicians about the need for sympathy – sympathy in the diagnosis of cancer and sympathy in the world of politics. The cast is arranged in a semi-circle each seated behind a music stand. Audrey (Denise Collins) raises her arms and the symphony of vocal instruments, cello, and viola begins. “Sympathy in C” seems to be written in sonata-allegro form (introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda) with theme and variations.

Each character introduces himself or herself and begins to provide exposition about how they got to their present condition. Throughout the extended “readers’ theatre,” this exposition is carefully developed, and the stories recapitulated with new information. The interesting piece resolves with a satisfying catharsis and the hint that these stories – or stories like them – will continue to be told.

Josh (Russel E. Kohlmann) is on his third date with Julia (Tygar Hicks) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer – despite her perfect diet, exercise routine, and life style – and does not know how to break the news to Josh. Nancy (Rachel Marcus) has more advanced breast cancer and is growing weary of round after round of chemotherapy cocktails. Audrey (Denise Collins) is the physician who – like a conductor – interacts with all the characters either directly or indirectly. Ronald (Peter Levine) her husband has advanced prostate cancer and is a globetrotting diplomat whose mission is to put an end to terrorism. Abdul (Charles J. Ouda) is a displaced refugee who had to flee his country because of Ronald’s “collateral damage” and lack of sympathy. Abdul, whose mother is also a cancer victim, faces constant discrimination based on his race, religion, clothing, and national origin. Mr. Ouda delivers a powerful bravura performance and effectively remains engaged with every voice and every story being told.

Under Terry Hanson’s astute direction, the actors and musicians (Madeline Docimo and Sylvie Mae Baldwin) successfully counterpoint cancer and terrorism and their insidious destructive metastasis in the human body and the body politic. It would be good to see more interaction between the instruments/voices, the use of a fugue that runs throughout the play, and more modulation in volume and tempo. Ms. Mernyk is in a good position to augment her metaphor and the rich and enduring questions the trope raises.

The symphony metaphor is effective and explored successfully by playwright Suzanne Mernyk. There is room to expand the trope with more interactions – and interactions of differing kinds – between the instruments/voices. Although the playwright makes the connections between cancer and terrorism clear, it is not readily evident that the encounters between Abdul and Ronald are about terrorism or the global events that precipitated the perceived terrorism. Perhaps “terrorism” indigenous to the homeland (white nationalism, white supremacy) might more easily counterpoint with the diagnosis of cancer?