They put it all on The Line

No kidding around. The Actor’s Warehouse production of “The Line” is only running for a few more days. Do yourself a favor and go see it. This is the review I wrote for the Sun.

Left to Right: Brenadette Harper, Steven H. Butler, Kate Clement, Zachary Simon, Saie Kurakula, Esteban Alvarez III & Dennis Clement

I’m just going to cut to the chase.

“The Line,” is playing at the Actors Warehouse through June 12.

Go see it.

Even if you have not attended another play this year, see this one.

If you were lucky enough to get through the pandemic feeling little more than annoyance over being shut in and irritation for having to wear a mask, “The Line” is your wake-up call. And it is delivered with all the tact and subtlety of an emergency intubation performed in a rolling ambulance.

This is supposed to be amateur theater. But the seven unpaid actors who portray front-line New York City health care workers abruptly shoved into a medical cataclysm stand up and deliver like pros. Perhaps because compelling material brings out the best in performers.

“The Line” is not a traditional stage performance. It unfolds in “docu-drama” style and the dialogue is entirely drawn from interviews with real health care workers conducted in the spring of 2020, when NYC hospitals were still jammed to capacity and doctors, nurses and paramedics were doing their jobs on pain of possibly bringing death home with them to their families.

Such a format runs the risk of being static and preachy. This is neither.

And rather than interacting with each other, these actors talk directly to the audience. Often to the extent of making personal eye contact while serving up excruciating details of what they did and what they couldn’t do – and how they managed to live with the consequences of both.

Listen to David (Zachery Simon) the male nurse talk about intubating barely breathing patients in near assembly line fashion: “You just tube in, tube in, tube in…and send them to ICU.”

And hear Sharon (Bernadette Harper) the nursing home manager who stuck with her elderly charges until she herself fell deathly ill. “When I went back to work, half my residents were gone just like that.”

Trinidad native Dwight (Stephen Butler) is moved to tears as he recalls his cancer patients dying alone because he could not allow loved ones in to say their goodbyes. “No one was there to hold her hand.”

Esteban Alverez III shines as Oscar, the paramedic who goes to heroic efforts to keep a patient alive in his ambulance, only to be turned away at the hospital. “The doctor said ‘what do you want me to do?’ He died on my stretcher.”

First year resident Jennifer (Kate Clement) burns with rage while recounting her struggle to keep one patient from tearing off his ventilation gear. “I had to tape it to his face,” she said. Then he was wheeled away to a hospital room, left unattended, and died.

Fire Department paramedic Ed (Dennis Clement) once delivered care under fire in Iraq by taping body bags over the windows to discourage sniper fire. No comparison. “Covid was invisible…there was nothing to adapt to…it was everywhere.”

Vikram (Saie Kurakula) the first-gen Indian-American physician told survivors that their loved ones felt no pain “even though I knew it was a lie.” And he disdained the adulation that was showered on health care workers after the crisis had passed. “Now we’re heroes all of a sudden because we can die.”

The actors take turns delivering their experiences and impressions in on-again-off again succession and rapid-fire fashion. There is anger followed by sadness pursued by cynicism and trailed by disdain for public officials and administrators who had no clue of the living hell that was occurring in ERs and ICUs all over the city.

“We haven’t even begun to see what this is,” reflects Jennifer as the pandemic begins to ebb. Even as she inexplicably finds herself obsessing over “all the empty apartments” left by the Covid dead.

“The Line” may be Gainesville’s most important play of 2022. Hopefully, empty seats will not be a problem for the duration of its run at The Actor’s Warehouse.

For ticket prices and show times see the AW web page.

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