Critical Care Review: TNC’s Summer Theater Coronavirus Clowning and Social Consciousness

In the middle of “Critical Care,”  Theater for a New City’s original hour-long musical touring New York City streets and parks through September 12, a dancing chorus of nursing home residents in hospital gowns is felled by the Coronovirus (actor T. Scott Lilly in a bulbous red body suit), who then gives birth to a little green variant offspring (Emily Pezzella.) They stand beneath a bigger-than-life-sized cardboard cutout of Donald Trump with his hair shaped into a dunce cap. “The virus in the White House,” exclaims a clown (Terry Lee King) who says he’s from the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit.

Some of this is silly, some pointed,  some in questionable taste. But none of it is really surprising – and all is welcome! — to those of us who have ever attended TNC’s annual summer street theater. That’s a goodly number, since artistic director Crystal Field has been conceiving, producing, and directing these shows every year for almost half a century.   As with its last in-person show, 2019’s “No Brainer, Or The Solution to Parasites,” TNC reliably provides a tuneful eclectic score; an entertaining and anarchic mix of dance, song, social consciousness, silliness and satire; and a huge energetic cast crowding the makeshift stage who actually look like New Yorkers.

Last summer’s offering, “Liberty, Or Just Us” was virtual. “Critical Care, or Rehearsals for a Nurse” comes roaring back in person, live and to all five boroughs (see schedule below.) The plot supposedly focuses on Flora, a young woman (Natasha Velez), a straight A student who lives in a New York City Housing Authority apartment building on Avenue D, and is so caring she even looks after lame pigeons.  Her neighbors urge her to become a nurse, and she gets a full scholarship to nursing school ; to pay for expenses, she gets a job as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home — just as COVID-19 strikes. 

I say this is “supposedly” the plot, because Flora’s story, and Flora herself, kind of disappear with the appearance of the Coronovirus, and Trump, and, later, Lady Liberty….  Call it TNC’s urban sprawl. The plot is a frame to hang the picture of life in the city and in the nation – a life that includes many problems in need of solutions.  Somewhat typical is the catchy song near the beginning, about the New York City Housing Authority . (“NYCHA Housing/NYCHA Housing…The rents are low/The price is right/A place of comfort in the night” but facing challenges because the city has cut the housing budget, “the water pipes is broke/The elevator isn’t working
The radiator’s leaking/And my neighbor’s selling dope.”) It’s a terrific song – worked into the musical under the excuse that Flora lives there.

For all the clowning in “Critical Care,” the production both begins and ends with an acknowledgement of loss. At the end, the cast asks the audience what they lost. At the performance I attended – in the street in front of TNC’s theater building on East 10th Street in Manhattan– many shouted out names of restaurants in the neighborhood that have shut down. 

But a cast member also held a placard listing the name of three people whom COVID has killed.

Remaining showtimes

Saturday. Aug 7 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Wise Towers, 117 West 90th Street
Sunday, Aug 8 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Central Park Bandshell, 72nd Street Crosswalk
Friday, Aug13 @ 6:30 PM: BROOKLYN — Coney Island Boardwalk @ W. 10th Street
Sat, Aug 14 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Abe Lebwohl Park @St. Marks Church, E. 10th St. & 2nd Ave.
Sunday, Aug 15 @2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Jackie Robinson Park, W. 147th St. & Bradhurst Ave.
Saturday, Aug 21 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Washington Square Park
Sunday, August 22 @ 2:00 PM: QUEENS — Travers Park, 34th Avenue Between 77th and 78th Street
Saturday, August 28 @ 2:00 PM: BROOKLYN — Sunset Park, 6th Ave. & 44th Street
Sun, Aug 29 @ 2:00 PM: BROOKLYN — Ft. Greene Park, Myrtle Ave. bet. N. Portland Ave. & St. Edwards St.
Saturday, Sept. 4 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Outside Theater for the New City at E. 10th Street & 1st Ave.
Saturday, September 11 @ 2:00 PM: STATEN ISLAND — Tappen Park at Canal, Bay and Water Streets
Sunday, September 12 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Tompkins Square Park at E. 7th St. & Ave A

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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