By Adam R. Burnett; Directed by lisa nevada and Adam R. Burnett
Produced by Buran Theatre and the Tank as part of the Flint & Tinder Series
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 5.27.17
A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd Street
by Asya Danilova on 5.22.17
Danny Brave, Nehassaiu deGannes, and Colleen O'Neill in T B. Sheets. Photo by Kate Schroeder.
BOTTOM LINE: A journey to acceptance of one’s own mortality, reminiscent of a student party at an arts college.
Tuberculosis is probably the most romanticized disease in European art and literature. "Consumption," as it was once known, was seen as the beautiful decay of intelligent and sensible people, aflame with creative inspiration and sexual desire at the end of their often short lives. Until the advent of chemotherapy and antibiotics in 1944, there was no effective cure for the disease, which caused a lot of speculation and experimentation with diet and environment. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, sanatorium treatment started to become popular among the wealthy. The sick were advised to retreat to the mountains and follow a strict daily routine under the doctor’s supervision.
The Magic Mountain, written by Thomas Mann in 1924, is probably the most iconic novel illustrating life in a tuberculosis sanatorium. T.B. Sheets, written by Adam R. Burnett, draws its inspiration from the German classics (and its title from a Van Morrison song) and creates its own limbo between "the valley" and the sky, life and death. The patients exist in a constant state of transformation. Even their names change as the play progresses. The One Who Composes Sounds and Visions becomes The One Who Keeps Time, and then Saint Definitelynotbluejeans. All of the proper nouns are descriptive of a state or an occupation.
All gender specific pronouns are eliminated. This gender fluidity is also reflected in the casting and the quirky costumes by Baille Younkman. Freed of the limitations of binary sexuality and encouraged by their very unconventional doctor (who, for instance, prescribes more cunnilingus to one of their patients), the inhabitants of the sanatorium venture into an exploration of their desires. Creativity, both in arts and in sex, leads them to the acceptance of their bodies as they are.
Despite the debatable parallel between tuberculosis and gender fluidity, T.B. Sheets is a reassuring, poetic and occasionally funny play with songs. Entering the sanatorium with The One Who Has Come From The City To Heal (Moira Stone), you might at first find its occupants teetering on the edge of insanity. But as Stone’s character transforms into The One Who Accepts Their Sickness, you may find yourself in love with the whimsical characters, each of whom gets a spotlight in the show.
Unfortunately, as directed by lisa nevada, the collective of patients and staff never truly become an ensemble, and, at times, the entire show seems like a party of art college students. Everybody is preoccupied with their own persona and stars in what they think is a play about them. Eliminating elements to their essence proves to work, as with the scenic design by Nicholas Kostner: in addition to six panels upstage which double as screens for projections by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew & Masha Tsimring, the sanatorium interior consists of only two chairs and tree chaise lounges with ashtrays glued to them. T.B. Sheets would benefit from some further fine-tuning of the performances.
(T.B. Sheets plays at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd Street, through May 27, 2017. The running time is two hours with no intermission, but a “dance and beer” break towards the middle of the play. Performances are Monday at 7:30; Wednesday through Friday at 7:30; Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30; and Sundays at 2:30. Tickets are $25-$35, $15 for students and are available at thetanknyc.org.)
T.B. Sheets is by Adam R. Burnett. Directed by lisa nevada & Adam R. Burnett. Scenic Design is by Nicholas Kostner. Lighting, Video and Puppetry Design are by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew & Masha Tsimring. Costume Design is Baille Younkman. Original Sound and Music are by Broken Chord. Choreography is by lisa nevada. Production Stage Manager is Kathryn Sykes.
The cast is Brady Blevins, Danny Brave, Maybe Burke, Nehassaiu deGannes, Yuki Kawahisa, Daniel Nelson, Colleen O'Neill, Lori Elizabeth Parquet, Tina Shepard and Moira Stone.