Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Cliches Sink “God’s Waiting Room” at The Matrix
Going to see a play called “God’s Waiting Room,” advertised with a rainbow theme, would tend to indicate that one was in for a play similar to “Steambath,” the 1970 play making commentary about faith by turning heaven into a steambath and God into the Puerto Rican attendant there. One assumes something sophisticated about faith and, given the artwork, LGBTQ relationships with organized religion or the deity behind it. If so, one would be vastly disappointed.
“God’s Waiting Room,” a new play by Robert Austin Rossi presented by Elephant Theatre Company at the Matrix in Hollywood, is about the waiting room of a Palm Springs hospital in which Lois Ruggerio’s estranged brother is dying. She flew across the country to sit in the waiting room, but won’t go into the ICU where her brother lies. Turns out her brother is gay, she’s not only a conservative Catholic, but is also addicted to The 700 Club, and Pat Robertson’s vitriolic diatribes about the sinfulness of “the gay lifestyle”. When she meets a generally beloved and obviously more open-minded Episcopalian priest who is also visiting her brother, the heated discussion begins.
Sadly, that conversation is almost entirely in cliches. She’s bitter, and spews her very standardized homophobic vitriol all over the room. Her husband is increasingly frustrated with their long journey’s pointless end, to wit wondering why they came (which he says over and over again, for what else can be said?). The priest is gentle to a fault, reasoning from the heart – a heart particularly close to this situation – about the need for love and compassion using all the standard lines. The nurse who goes in and out tsks at the stupidity of this prejudiced woman, but that’s all she’s asked to do. The man supposedly dying behind the ICU door appears from happier days, between scenes, to narrate the story of his “freed from family chains” life, and add pathos to the tale of his family’s rejection.
Although the script is pedantic, it could have been played with by an artful director to become more nuanced. Not much luck with that here. Director David Fofi allows for the heat to rise so quickly, there’s no place for the main character to go. Kathleen Garrett’s Lois is practically foaming at the mouth with agitation so quickly and to such an extent that her character really doesn’t have much of way to expand upon it, until a hopelessly unrealistic sudden reversal in the last couple of minutes of the play. As the priest, Mark Adair-Rios is so consistently calm and quiet-voiced that he also has almost nowhere to go and no way to enhance his character’s sense of tolerance and patience without disappearing as a personality altogether. Given the resumes of these two actors, this cannot be their call.
Likewise, the other performers are left with rather 2-dimensional characters played all in one key. Randy Vasquez does what he can with the upset woman’s husband, but doesn’t have a whole lot in the script to work with. Jeremy Glazer, playing the object of everyone else’s conversation has little chance to build his narration into an actual presence, leaving one without a sense of his rebellious life, or the respected activist he supposedly had become. Leshay Boyce makes nice work of the nurse manning the waiting room, but is given little to truly add to the storyline beyond the occasional eye roll.
By the end – an end which is supposed to be moving and redeeming, I assume – you just don’t believe anything could change, despite the last-second revelations which are supposed to turn this in to a heart-wrenching drama. Indeed, despite performers manfully trying to create a dramatic arc, there really isn’t one, the tension does not build, and the ending seems tacked on as thoroughly as those pat resolutions one sees to one-hour TV detective shows that have run out of time to do anything more complex.
Suffice it to say that, given the premise, this could have been honed into a better play. Given the current script, it could have at least been nuanced by a director into a better, though not great, piece of theater. As it is, “God’s Waiting Room” has absolutely nothing new to say, and says it in a most imperfect way.
What: “God’s Waiting Room” When: through April 2, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays Where: Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood How Much: $28 Fridays and Saturdays, $20 Thursdays and Sundays Info: (323) 960-7784 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2863684