Rachel Jarmy is clearly fighting a one-woman battle against Casualty. Her play “Cubicle Four,” which can be currently found at Paradise in the Vault, is set in a wondrous alternative reality in which A&E departments offer settings for thoughtful self-reflection rather than the customary screaming and howling. Even the vulgarity of those bickering doctors and nurses has been banished offstage. Perhaps this play is set a few years in the future, when “the Cuts” have started to bite and there are no longer any medical staff around. “Cubicle Four” is comprised of three acts – all set within the same eponymous cubicle – in which a different victim and their loved one each wait to be attended by a doctor.
The writing is stone cold sober. One will judge this play to be either too plain or admirably realistic. A young man is forced to confront his fear of hospitals after his grandmother apparently breaks her hip. Two close friends profess their love for each other after one of them has been stabbed during the course of some unspecified criminal enterprise. A housewife confesses to her vegetative husband that she may be finally leaving him. We observe characters who have been briefly separated from their everyday lives, before the cubicle releases them again. They experience epiphanies, but only in passing. Although they may not acknowledge it, this cubicle is their confessional.
The two crooks from act two come across as the most vivid and rounded characters. The grandmother in act one is a bit too lively to belong in a care home. She is the perfect grandmother, both cynical and understanding, and ultimately too lucid and oiled with life. Unless the actress is doped with super-strength marijuana before they wheel her on stage, it must be a devil to conquer this simultaneously foggy and clear character, and the misjudgement hereby lies in the writing. In any case, one is surely complimenting the actress to remark that she is not plausibly geriatric.
The six parts are seemingly shared between an alternating cast of thirteen, and this may have taxed its strength, leading to uneven performances. Fate intervened at one point to set up a fine joke, but the cast proved strong enough to resist temptation. When the actress who played the housewife forgot her lines, it was a decided shame that the prompt did not issue from the husband who was supposed to have been in a coma for twenty years. But that’s professionalism and this is a serious play.