The cast in a scene from Hospital
Come mid-July, theres nothing like an icy, dark serial drama to cut through the heat, and the 6th annual Hospital series, presented by Axis Company, fits the bill precisely. Located at One Sheridan Square (former home of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company), Axis has been around since 1998, and was founded to allow people to experience a play from the minute they enter the space.
Besides their seasonal dose of Hospital, some notable, past Axis productions include Crane (with Deborah Harry), Julius Ceasar and Woyczek. The core company is made up of 12 actors, light, sound and production designers and artistic director, Randy Sharp.
We do both original works and traditional plays, says Sharp, who studied theater at Simons Rock, an offshoot of Bard College. But its always a performance-specific environment as soon as the audience crosses the threshold. So far, weve had at least 18 productions.
How did the Hospital project get started?
About ten years ago, Sharp was acting in an episodic play at Workhouse Theater, and thought it was exciting for people to come every week and follow the show. She kept that thought alive, and came up with the idea for Hospital in her first season with Axis.
Its about the interior life of a man in a terminal coma, she explains. There are four episodes, the journey toward his death, and every year that journey is done differently. In past years, weve used illness, fire, drowning in a swimming pool, freezing and murder. The audience travels with him during his last few days, in the deep interior of his brain.
This seasons episodes revolve around a soldier with a questionable past who leaves his post in a mid-19th century battle, is blown back into the trench by a huge explosion, and is buried in mud. Hes taken to a make-shift hospital in a barn, where he goes into a coma and eventually dies.
This is a drama with funny parts, Sharp says. Each episode runs two weeks, except the last, which runs for one week, and each segment is about 35 minutes long. But theres no need to see all four, and if you miss the first one, its ok, because weve got a film at the beginning which explains whats happened.
According to Sharp, theres a lot of film work during the play as well, through use of a big screen with back projection. The set is a breathtaking recreation of a 200-year-old barn in upstate New York, where the company shot the movie. Original music-with songs specific to each episode-was also created by Sharp, and even the lobby is part of the show. Its filled with material relevant to the play, so people are immediately immersed in atmosphere.
This time weve set the piece in mid-19th century, and its made us stay within the world of information before 1865, the director notes. Its been challenging and fun to come up with music, language and references from this period. The essence of the play, is timeless. A human being is about to walk into death, and theyre learning to not be as afraid as when they were first presented with this situation. What people will experience on stage is feelings and ideas from the darkest parts of their own brains, some of which they might not have even imagined seeing before.
Hospital has made such a summer splash, that celebs and downtown performers alike have signed on to be part of the action. Among this years crop are Wren Arthur, David Balutanski, Marc Palmier, Brian Osborne and Sayra Player.
This is by far, our most popular show, Sharp adds. Weve built up a very strong cult following for this serial. There are people who have been coming every year since 1997. Why? Its intensely entertaining, and they cant wait to see whos in it, and whats going to happen next.