I AM NOT MY MOTHERLAND (Orbiter 3): A different kind of interactive theater

(L to R) Isabella Sazak, Brian Anthony Wilson, and Hannah Gold.
(L to R) Isabella Sazak, Brian Anthony Wilson, and Hannah Gold.

Orbiter 3’s I AM NOT MY MOTHERLAND, written by Emily Acker and directed by Rebecca Wright, explores the complex relationship between Dr. Leroy (Isabella Sazak), a renowned surgeon, and her ripe understudy, Dr. Rosel (Hannah Gold), as they collaborate on a major surgery for a cancer patient.

The former, cynical and aging, is what most might imagine any doctor who’s spent most of her life tackling the pressure of preserving someone else’s: detached, disenchanted. The latter, Dr. Rosel, is the polar opposite: amiable and naïve, eager to learn about and connect with others, and young. Leroy effortlessly exudes confidence, thanks to her impeccable reputation, edging on Rosel’s obvious and sometimes painful admiration which often leaves her spineless in her seasoned mentor’s presence.

As if difference in age and experience isn’t enough to fuel the complexity of this partnership, cultural difference also plays a major role in the rocky foundation the two doctors attempt to build upon. Their relationship, established early on in the play, goes on to reveal itself as an analogy for a major conflict the story later explores: Two women who come from the same occupational background but have completely opposite personalities are expected to work together to save a life. These same women also share historical roots, but on opposing ends of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and while on the surface they behave emotionally removed from their cultural origins, Doctors Leroy and Rosel certainly have unresolved issues that are bared as the narrative moves along.

The play uses flashbacks to reveal character backstories and explore the cultural differences between the two surgeons. But the originality comes in with the tactics used to tell each character’s present-day story. Scenes are acted out from one character’s perspective, rewinded, and re-lived from the other’s in order to present the audience with the bigger picture. This allows each individual audience member to develop their own perspectives on each scene taken in, from the minor tensions between Dr. Leroy and Dr. Rosel to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. Impressively, the play doesn’t offer a biased political position on the matter; it just presents its audience with information and leaves it to us to form an opinion.

But the major theme of the play isn’t the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In short, it is perception. The play presents us with many conflicts between characters told from each doctor’s point of view, reminding us that there are two sides to every story, and it never holds one perspective as more valid than the other. Each member of the audience will form an opinion based on their own perceptions—which is why the use of rewinding the scene is so effective—and instead of simply telling a story the way that most narratives do, it actively engages the audience.

The actors do well in their respective roles; Isabella Sazak is well-suited to the cold and robotic personality that Dr. Leroy requires. Hannah Gold brings to life the young and lively Dr. Rosel. Brian Anthony Wilson stands out in his minor role as the patient whose life depends on the two doctors’ agreeability. Although portrayed as a rather stereotypical black character, his presence offers much needed comic relief, which gives the play a lighter mood and saves it from feeling melodramatic.

But the most impressive aspect of the production is its sound design, conducted by Adriano Shaplin. The sound design accompanies each rewound scene in a film-like manner, cluing us in to the psychological damage each character is suffering at a given time. I AM NOT MY MOTHERLAND’s sound and structural creativity engage the ears and minds in such a way that the play encourages its audience to pay attention during, and compels its audience into conversation afterward.

[St. Stephens Theatre, 10th and Ludlow streets] July 14–31, 2016; orbiter3.org.

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