by Dick Kerekes
Jacksonville playwright Ian Mairs’ new play, 7-7 completed a two weekend run at the Studio Theatre in FCCJ’s Wilson Center.
Most plays in my opinion are written to entertain, some to further a cause and some to educate. 7-7 falls in the latter category and written with the intent to examine the struggles of patients and caregivers in a hospital setting. Ian Mairs certainly knows the subject. Twenty years ago, as he embarked on a career in theatre, he realized that he needed an income to get him through graduate school. He choose to enter the nursing field as it offered many job opportunities, flexible hours and better than average income. He spent eleven years in the field and has drawn upon that experience for play material.
7-7 takes place in St. Martins Rehabilitation Hospital, and the time frame was a regular day shift. As an audience we were observers into the personal lives and problems of the caregivers that come in touch with the patients, and we also meet three patients with their needs.
Dixie (Simone Aden-Reid) was the supervising nurse who is beset by personal problems like paying for an eighteen thousand dollar boat purchased by her now disabled and very dependant husband. She is at burn out stage, a subject strongly addressed by the script and in the accompanying study guide. Ruth (Valerie Anthony) is her supervisor and a by- the -book management type, who tries to be compassionate and wants Dixie to take some time off despite the fact she cannot afford to.
Chantal (Ustacia Smith) is a nurse’s aide, a single mother who feels put upon when her requested vacation time is not given the consideration she thinks it should. Maria (Susi Acebey Vazaquez) is another nurse assistant, who also needs the job to help her husband raise her two children. She is a concerned caregiver, and likes her job despite being physically abused by one of the patients. Leon (Al Letson) played a ten year veteran nurse’s assistant and provided much of the humor in the play as he negotiated lunch orders for the staff over the phone with various merchants. He knows his value and knows how far he can push his supervisors.
Gayle Featheringill was Lucille, a patient with dementia, who spends her time in a wheel chair coming in and out and kept busy folding and refolding towels for the staff. She has some interesting encounters with Ted (Leonard Alterman), a retired cab driver and hospital volunteer. Ted lost his wife of 42 years and is lonely, and tries to relive his still present grief by cheering up Lucille, who does not respond to his attempts and he eventually walks out in disgust. A valuable lesson here is that hospital volunteers need training in understanding dealing with patients and their needs.
Caryl Butterley as Claire, a bed ridden patient with some kind of growth on her back (it was never specifically identified). She knows the problem is getting worse and does not want any pie-in-the sky talk from the nurses. She loves to watch TV and appeared to be a gentle soul.
Redgie Gutshall as Clarence, a bed ridden patient with one leg and a several health problems (asthma, constipation, etc.) received much attention since he is loud, boisterous and very demanding. Bob Shellenberg, as a visiting priest, makes an attempt to talk with him about God, but old Clarence will have none of that. The confrontation between Ms. Anthony as the department head and Clarence was dramatic. She reads him the riot act on his behavior and reminds him he has been kicked out of eight nursing homes and to shape up now or she will ship him out to a real dump of a nursing home.
The final character was Hal (Del Austin) who made a cameo appearance as Lucille’s son bringing her a birthday present. He gets extremely upset because the staff had given her medication that has knocked her out and he is unable to converse with her.
Dr. Lee Berger, Chair of the Theatre Department at Douglas Anderson directed and choose an excellent cast, picture perfect for each role. The set consisted of a break-room/office on one side and a hospital bed room on the other and was very realistic.
I can see this play having a long life at colleges and universities that have nursing programs. Even as just an ordinary theater goer, it had a lot of meaning for me. I know about burnout, and this certainly addressed the topic. I also asked myself what kind of patient was I when I was hospitalized back in 200l. Was I overly demanding? I do recall my caregivers were extremely pleasant and responsive in my stay at Baptist Hospital.
Thanks Ian Mairs for a very well written play that was though provoking and educational. I hope 7-7 finds a big following and is possibly made into a training film for future nurses and caregivers.
by Dick Kerekes