JAN. 24, 2003

“Medicine, Man”
Mill Mountain Theater’s Trinkle Main Stage


It is unusual for Mill Mountain Theater’s Norfolk Southern Festival of New Works to be performed on the Main Stage instead of the smaller Theater B, but when word gets out of the charm of Jeffrey Stanley’s  “Medicine, Man,” they will need the  extra seats.

Stanley’s script has amusing and clever dialog and creates characters  both appealing and familiar. His central character, Calvin Barker, is brought to life in a wonderful portrayal from actor Sean Hayden.   Hayden’s Calvin is a perfect combination of good old Southwest Virginia boy, homespun philosopher and naïve youth.

When we meet him, at a Roanoke hospital, Calvin has spent the past eight years of his life caring for his mother for whom he has both love and aggravation. He found her unconscious, rushed her to the hospital and is waiting to see if this time in the hospital will be her last.

Calvin has been frittering his life away, drinking lots of beer and following NASCAR racing. His  mother’s physician is an attractive doctor who can’t wait to leave  Roanoke and return to her fiancé in Manhattan. Dr. Sue Morrison is fascinated by Calvin’s mother’s case and wants to write a paper on it for a prestigious medical journal so that she can get a bigger, better job to impress her ambitious husband to be.

Calvin is put in a quandary when it turns out his mother has a living will  -- and his sister, from whom he hasbecome estranged, has medical power  of attorney. Tracy, he is sure, would want them to let his mother die; the
same wish is voiced by Preacher Bobby Ousley, to whose church Calvin’s mother has left her life's savings.

Calvin wants to let Dr. Morrison try dialysis to bring his mother back to consciousness. A contest of wills and a question of ethics ensues.

Through all of this an apparition -- a medicine man -- ambiguously counsels each of the parties based on past connections that only he seems to know. This medicine man plays the Deus Ex Machina here, but he is needed to allow the characters to look more closely at themselves and their motives.

As with most of MMT’s New Works, this one has superb acting and good production values. Janelle Schremmer is the young doctor. She and Hayden have impeccable timing and good chemistry on stage. Sarah Dandrige’s character, Alabama, and George C. Hosmer’s Preacher Bobby are one-dimensional characters for the most part, but play their roles effectively. Sarah Yorra is believable as Calvin’s sister, Tracy.  Bev Appleton is appropriately mysterious  as the medicine man who may or may not be a group hallucination, a figment of Calvin’s imagination, a channeler of Calvin and Tracy’s mother Ola Mae, a ghost, or possibly even real.

“Medicine, Man” is a sweet, often amusing story with a wonderfully crafted character in Calvin Barker. The play is directed by Jere Hodgin.