A Very Common Procedure
It’s not often that a gesture will resonate more strongly than a spoken line in a play. After all the dialogue is what the playwright crafted to create the work of drama that the audience is viewing. However, Lynn Collins is the exception to that rule. In the final moments of Courtney Baron’s latest play A Very Common Procedure, after the final lines are spoken, Collins’ hand drifts down her body, resting near her womb. This gesture, which lasts for just a moment before the lights dim, combined with the distraught look on Collins’ face, leaves a more lasting impression than any of the spoken lines in the show. And, given how well the lines are written, that is saying something.
Baron’s play tells the story of Carolyn and Michael Goldenhersch, a young couple who recently lost their first baby. Born premature and needing an immediate catharization, the baby dies hours after its birth. The couple’s marriage soon falls apart and Carolyn begins an affair with Dr. Anil Patel, the man who performed the operation on her child.
The production is stylistically simplistic, the set consisting of a few chairs and a table, and the scene changes are indicated simply by shifts in the lighting. The audience is left to focus on the performers, who speak in both monologues, where they directly address the audience, and dialogues where they interact with each other. These techniques reveal the strength of the writing, which treats a delicate subject appropriately while still depicting the pain behind the words.
Collins’ performance, which touches on maternal happiness as well as marital bliss but remains in bewildered grief for the majority of the show, is masterful. She gives a true depth to the sorrow that Carolyn is experiencing, which shifts between controlled and hysterical, and even when screaming at the top of her lungs, she remains in control of her performance.
Collins is joined onstage by Stephen Kunken, playing her husband Michael, who is sick with love for his but unable to give her what it is that she wants. His frustrated repeating of, “Babies don’t die,” reveals the bewilderment and confusion that he experiences, along with the underlying anger resulting from a senseless tragedy. He and Colins share a true affection that is revealed in flashbacks, showing times during the pregnancy and when they began dating. These flashbacks cause the present, marked by detachment and distance, even more poignant.
As the doctor responsible for the death of their child and the man sleeping with the mother, Amir Arison plays Dr. Anil Patel with a detached deliberation that does not explain or justify his actions, causing the character to be more intriguing than sympathetic.
Running at brisk 80 minutes, the show wisely does not linger where it is not needed. It gives a portrait of a relationship and of a family and it leave the story unresolved. The metaphor of the heart – the heart symbolizing love and compassion, and emotion in general, as well as the actual organ in the body – are not overdone. They are presented simply and left to the audience to interpret what they will.