Volume 74, Number 12 | July 21 - 27, 2004


Axis Theatre
One Sheridan Square
July 16-Aug 28
Fri and Sat @ 8

Hospital marathon returns to Axis

By Davida Singer

Photo by Dixie Sheridan

The cast in a scene from Hospital

Come mid-July, there’s 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 Simon’s Rock, an offshoot of Bard College. “But it’s always a performance-specific environment as soon as the audience crosses the threshold. So far, we’ve 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.

“It’s 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, we’ve 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 season’s 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. He’s 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 there’s no need to see all four, and if you miss the first one, it’s ok, because we’ve got a film at the beginning which explains what’s happened.”

According to Sharp, there’s 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. It’s filled with material relevant to the play, so people are immediately immersed in atmosphere.

“This time we’ve set the piece in mid-19th century, and it’s made us stay within the world of information before 1865,” the director notes. “It’s 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 they’re 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 year’s crop are Wren Arthur, David Balutanski, Marc Palmier, Brian Osborne and Sayra Player.

“This is by far, our most popular show,” Sharp adds. “We’ve built up a very strong cult following for this serial. There are people who have been coming every year since 1997. Why? It’s intensely entertaining, and they can’t wait to see who’s in it, and what’s going to happen next.”

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