The beauty myth
The Waiting Room
Two women wait to see the doctor. Both are from previous centuries. Both have been subjected to barbaric methods in order to achieve their society’s idea of beauty, and both are suffering the consequences. Forgiveness From Heaven, an 18th-century Chinese woman crippled by bound feet, waits with Victoria, a 19th-century woman with internal organs crushed by a corset that makes her waist 16 inches and “hurts only when I breathe.” But just when you start feeling thankful for living in an enlightened age, here comes Wanda, her breasts blown out of proportion by implants.
Women are dying to be beautiful, and the medical world is in conflict when things go awry. That’s the core subject matter of playwright Lisa Loomer’s The Waiting Room, the new play at River Stage.
Loomer also stirs myriad other issues into her medicinal pot, like invasive medical procedures and women dying of diseases. She seasons the mix with lengthy drug approvals by the uncaring Food and Drug Administration, as well as the actions of money-hungry pharmaceutical companies and stockholders. She adds salt (to the women’s wounds) with promising procedures that aren’t approved and finishes off with a dollop of insensitivity from male doctors.
If this sounds like a recipe for a fascinating, disturbing, thought-provoking and at times humorous evening, that’s exactly what The Waiting Room delivers. If it sounds like this play would be better and more focused with fewer ingredients, you’d also be correct.
Loomer wrote the play when her mother was dealing with cancer. You can feel her anger and frustration at everyone and everything, but you wish she wouldn’t weigh down the script with so many issues. Nonetheless, you can’t help but be affected by the stories, especially if you’ve had to deal with health problems and the dizzying world of modern-day medicine. When these women bond, especially in the later scenes atop hospital beds, you can feel the love and support they have in each other.
Director Maggie Adair Upton expertly guides the cast through this weighty script. Through both performance and staging, Upton gives us magical moments with the very talented Akiko Komano as Forgiveness. Ellen Vincent is seamless as the confused and courageous Victoria. As the third woman, Lynn Damme stumbles at first with a cartoonish version of the streetwise Wanda, but when she finally settles into her character, we are pulling for her all the way.