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They Say: “A young couple survives a horrific car accident, but must then face an even tougher test: their guilt and resentment towards each other. Can faith and human will overcome shared trauma? Is there really such a thing as unconditional love?”
If you attend Fringe out of a passion for new plays, seeing Shock / Trauma is an opportunity you shouldn’t miss. Festivals of this kind do our theatrical community an important service: They allow audiences to hear new works, and talented playwrights like Evan Crump to field the responses that will help the work find it’s sea legs.
You shouldn’t go to Shock/ Trauma expecting a polished production, nor a perfect composition that fully expresses the playwright’s themes. Yet the foundation for a wonderful play is there. If I’ve fully understood what Crump intends to convey, then for the most part the play is working, certainly enough to make watching it a worthwhile endeavor.
Speaking of the playwright’s intentions, Crump has assigned himself a hell of a task, namely to reconcile actual events from his own life and transform them into a fictional work of art. Five years ago Crump and his girlfriend, actress Julie Roundtree, were in a car accident. Crump walked away largely unscathed, physically at least, but Roundtree has had to survive severe injuries to her spine and skull. The title, Shock/Trauma, refers to the hospital ward to which Roundtree was rushed. The play explores the process of physical and emotional recovery, and the effects of the accident on the relationship of Marc and Anna, played by Crump and Roundtree, respectively. Guilt, blame, acceptance, forgiveness, a loss of independence, and the rattling of one’s faith are among the cornucopia of themes Crump takes on.
The shock/ trauma ward itself is the setting of the play. Hospital curtains loom over all the action. Crump tells his story using a nonlinear structure. The script spans two or three years, but Crump returns again and again to the hours immediately following the crash. With the help of Steve Royal’s set and lighting design, the sequence of events is always completely clear. Where the production falters is in the timing of the transitions between scenes. The actors rush from one to the next, undercutting the impact of each.
That aside, Roundtree gives an affecting performance. Manolo Santalla also stands out, especially, in the role of a nurse who cares for Anna when she is put into a medically induced coma. We experience the coma from Anna’s point of view. For my part, I’ve never seen a scene like this on stage before and it’s very memorable. Both the actors and Crump deserve credit for infusing, of all things, humor into these circumstances.
The insight we gain into Anna’s experience is a strong point in Crump’s story, but also part of an overall imbalance in the script. I understood her perspective on the relationship, post-accident, more deeply than Marc’s. How Anna’s behavior and emotional needs change as a result of her injuries is often discussed, but shown too little. The recovery is a mutual test of endurance, and I lacked a clear picture of why Anna is a challenge to live with in the months immediately following the accident.
As time passes, and the play progresses, Anna and Marc’s relationship changes again. These later scenes feel entirely truthful and are very well acted. Like couples do, Anna and Marc argue all at same time, about all the previously mentioned issues. Yet the audience can follow their thoughts point for point without ever loosing the sense that this is entirely intimate behavior.
Crump brings Shock/ Trauma to a conclusion that I am loath to reveal, but which has resonated with me since I saw it. This play is deserving of an audience’s attention, the hard work still required to fully develop it, and a life that will last long after the Fringe tent comes down.
See It If: You get jazzed by thought- provoking new plays.
Skip It If: Only polished, fully developed work will float your boat.