Stage

It wouldn't matter, except the Mime Troupe suffers from being unspecific. Their shows lay out political arguments without rising above cliches. Damaged Care has a medical fat cat named Dr. Capitano buying out Bologna Hospital and turning it into "Capacare," a new HMO. He starts to cut back, and Nurse Basil threatens to walk out because insuranceless patients are being turned away. But Nurse Basil is a serious woman, torn between protesting and caring for her patients; she can't quite leave. One of the patients is Arlecchino, who has a whimsical growth on his shoulder that wriggles, smells cheesy, and speaks French. He can't get into the emergency room as an uninsured patient, so he tries to get in as a doctor. This almost works. The show is a live cartoon played out in commedia masks and funny costumes, with a few good lines and good performances, especially from Velina Brown as Basil and Ed Holmes as the evil Capitano (people in the audience hiss at him) -- and a few routines, like the voice-mail hell that the HMO phone system subjects everyone to, are hilarious.

But as a whole the play is a weak argument for an excellent cause. The movement from hospitals as private, money-losing, charitable businesses -- sometimes run by nuns -- to hospitals as department arms of HMOs was not caused by a shift in social attitudes from the groovy '70s to the ruthless '80s, as Dr. Capitano jokingly suggests in a speech; it was made almost inevitable by skyrocketing medical costs. A really sharp leftist theater troupe would start right there with its satire, rather than making the problem look like a simple equation of greed.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Song in Three Parts
Aria da Capo. By Edna St. Vincent Millay. Directed by Jacqueline Blackman. Starring Ben Gorman, Angela Goodsell, Rachel Brown, Tori Hinkle, and Glen Micheletti. At Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (at Mason), through July 28. Call 673-3847.

Early in this century, Harlequins were hip. Even William Faulkner wrote a limpid, rhyming Harlequinade around 1920, with a man in motley named Pierrot and a lover who stared at the moon. Why he did this I have no idea; but he may have been influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay, who had a Pierrot play staged in 1919 to protest the Great War. Millay became the first female poet ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. In her later years she wrote almost exclusively about politics, and Aria da Capo is an elegant example from her 20s of how to do good commedia-style political theater. It doesn't rant or polemicize, which is the same thing as saying that it doesn't hand a critic any argument to disagree with. It just shows, in skillful outline, a rich society ignoring the carnage of its lower classes in a distant war. What George Bernard Shaw says in almost three hours with Heartbreak House, Millay says in 45 minutes with Aria. It is amusing, brutal, and brief.

First Pierrot and Columbine sit at the table and sip wine. If it were Tuesday, Columbine says, "you could kiss me" -- but, alas, it's Wednesday. Columbine declares herself "hot as a spoon in a teacup!" while Pierrot says he's tired of dresses with hemlines at the bottom, "... and women with their breasts in front of them." It goes on like this, with balletic gestures and romantic sighs, until Cothurnus comes on and says it's time for his scene. He kicks Pierrot and Columbine off, calls on Thyrsis and Corydon, and directs a crude little play about two shepherds who divide their pasture with an imaginary wall. This leads to that, and the shepherds kill each other. Telling what else happens wouldn't be fair, but Thyrsis and Corydon are played nicely by Tori Hinkle and Rachel Brown; Brown is especially good when Corydon finds some valuable rocks -- really just colored puffs of cloth -- and tries to make Thyrsis jealous.

In music, an aria da capo is a song in three parts, with the third part repeating the first. Early in the century it was fashionable to write stories and plays around musical structures, and this habit gave even political theater an uncommon kind of grace.

-- Michael Scott Moore

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