“A Series of Tests” scores high marks – Fringe review

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New York’s AGGROCRAG returned to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival this year with a farcical indictment of the American medical establishment, A Series of Tests. This world premiere combined hospital drama and science-fiction, with a generous amount of Egyptology thrown into the mix.

Max Reuben, Alex Fast, Tim Chawaga and Anna Elliott in AGGROCRAG’s "A Series of Tests;" photo by Jenna Spitz.

When Simon is diagnosed with the rare, incurable, genetic neuropathy that claimed the lives of his young parents, the audience first sees him being subjected to the cold voice of his doctor, and then to the greed and incompetence of an experimental facility in dire financial straits, all too willing to sacrifice the patient in its quest for fame, funding, and a Nobel Prize.

Max Reuben as Simon, feeling “more like a science project than a patient,” in AGGROCRAG’s "A Series of Tests;" photo by Jon Herman.

The AGGROCRAG team not only wrote the work, but also directed and starred in it. Max Reuben portrayed Simon with understated strength, comedy, and empathy. Jenny Donheiser was sweet and likeable as the dedicated nurse Nora. Tim Chawaga and Anna Elliott were amusing as Devon and Devin, the dimwitted but honest orderlies who exemplify the Peter Principle. Alex Fast, as Dr. Daniel Drake, captured the humorous spirit of the scholarly, out-of-touch researcher more concerned with ancient Egyptian ritual and mummified ibises than with a compassionate bedside manner. And Andrew Farmer was stellar as Teddy Mandela, the smarmy clinic director.

Director Jon Herman skillfully staged the production and guided the cast through an ingeniously layered set, which took the audience into the clinic, a TV studio, Simon’s brain, and the still undiscovered tomb of Imhotep, the world’s first known architect and doctor. Props and lighting underscored both the absurdity and the seriousness of the work.

Alex Fast starred in AGGROCRAG’s "The Most Inspiring and Magnificent Tale of Alfridge von Waddlegrave" at Underground Arts in June 2011; photo courtesy of AGGROCRAG.

The alumni from NYU’s Tisch School had a Fringe hit last season with Hello from the Children of Planet Earth.

Three of the company’s co-founders— Reuben, Chawaga, and Herman –grew up in the Philadelphia area,  and the company maintains a second home in Underground Arts at the Wolf Building. I look forward to their next return to Philly!

Tags

a series of tests, aggrocrag, alex fast, andrew farmer, anna elliott, jenny donheiser, jon herman, max reuben, philadelphia fringe festival, theater review, tim chawaga, underground arts

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