NY Theater Review By Eric J. Grimm





Stepping into the main stage theatre at HERE Arts Center, it is clear that plenty of effort has gone into creating an authentic and beautiful atmosphere for Carrie Robbins’ one-act plays, Sawbones and The Diamond Eater. The former’s set includes fields of wheat and a large, gorgeous landscape in the background. As Natalia Paruz sits down to play her saw, you expect that you’re in for something strange and delightful. Then something strange and not so delightful happens. Loud, sterile recorded music starts to play, drowning out Paruz’s saw. It’s the kind of cheesy movie music you might expect from a nineties historical romance. It’s clear that the proceedings might turn out to be a little ham-handed.


The play fulfills its promise. Sawbones is high camp from start to finish. Set during and after the Civil War, it tells the story of Dr. Cuttaridge (Wynn Harmon), whose war effort mostly consists of amputating limbs. For effect, we see plenty of severed arms and legs piled in a bucket. Cuttaridge’s story plays out in clumsy narration from his black protégé, Jebidiah (Gregory Marlowe) and his would-be lover, Miz Cora (Erika Rolfsrud). Jebidiah fulfills the illiterate magical black man stereotype I wasn’t sure existed in modern theater. All of the characters are broadly drawn, welcoming plenty of overreacting. It all builds to a fever pitch during a howler of a birth scene, with most of the actors shouting and running around on stage. Though Sawbones isn’t quite what I expected, I could at least chuckle at its absurdity.


The same can’t be said for the second one-act, The Diamond Eater, in which Robbins desperately needs to abandon her failed attempt at a reverent take on the Holocaust. In the play, Jewish Dr. Kuttermann (Timothy Roselle) — yes, both protagonists have “cut” in their surnames– is forced to perform an unnecessary kidney transplant on Avraham Millstein (Eric Kuttner), who has been digesting diamonds over and over in hopes of saving them for after the war. This plays into Robbins’ sophomoric fixation on excrement, which also figures into the previous play. That coupled with a scene in which a Nazi loudly fools around with a woman while the operation occurs makes for some unintentional comedy, but it’s nowhere near as entertaining as the previous play.


Playwright Carrie Robbins is a reputable costume designer and adapting RD Robbins’ tales of medicine and war is an admirable task but her playwriting leaves much to be desired. Her morbid curiosity for the subject matter distracts her from developing her characters and streamlining the narratives. Because of the weakness of the material, Tazewell Thompson’s highly stylized production may be forgiven its faults. At the very least, its overblown spectacle is rarely boring.


Sawbones and The Diamond Eaterare playing May 21-June 7 at HERE Arts Center (145 6th Ave.; (212) 647-0202)