Demonstrating that one is a triple threat in a theater the size of a closet sounds like a tough task. Kelly Samara, playwright, actor, and dancer – also choreographer, and creator of the music she dances to, which really makes her something like a quintuple threat – bravely gives it a go in her new one-woman show, and the result is a small triumph. Tense, gripping, funny, and surprisingly celebratory considering its subject, this hospital one-act is anything but maudlin, and hardly sentimental. Instead it's revealing, rough, and raging.
Dressed in an embarrassingly short hospital gown, Samara plays a hospital patient with an unspecified but worsening and apparently terminal illness. She breaks up a series of monologues with dance numbers that animate the violent psychology lurking behind the scenes.
To be precise, one of the scenes isn't exactly a monologue; in it she talks with an unseen, unheard friend whose chatty but emotion-fraught visit only underscores the gulf between the universe this long-term patient has both entered and created inside the hospital, and the forgetful outside world.
Wandering among various states – drugged, gossipy, fanciful, primally angry – Ms. Samara commands the space, developing her character with a mature, finely calibrated emotional control which lends weight to her script as well. The wordplay in the title isn't just a wee trick; it's an example of the play's wisely crafted language. "Amusement," she philosophizes, is just a cleaned-up word for "distraction." Common words take on entirely different casts when contemplated by a sickening patient confined to a hospital.
Ms. Samara trusts the audience to follow her, through words and movement, along her squirming evolution from impatience to eternal Patient. This trust makes the play an intensely satisfying experience (or "amusement"). So much so that the one time she doesn't trust us – when she concludes a monologue about iguanas and the difference between camouflage and invisibility by stating the obvious – is the one moment she disappoints a little.
As part of Manhattan Repertory Theatre's Summerfest 2009, Being Patient runs for three performances only, closing Friday Aug. 7. A powerful and well-tuned fusion of the many talents of a very crafty artist, it deserves further development and a longer run. In any case Kelly Samara has earned some significant attention.