Southern Rep opened Sick last weekend. It’s a dark comedy about paranoia, germs and family relations. Playwright Zayd Dohrn was in town for the opening, and it’s the fourth production of a play he is still fine tuning. It’s in very good health in its current form and the Bob Edes Jr., Sean Glazebrook and Liann Pattison turn in fine performances.
In the play, a family living in New York City gets caught up in fears of pollution and germs – both natural and artificial. Dohrn developed the core ideas for the play while living with his wife in Beijing, where they have an apartment and spend part of every year. It was during the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in China (2002-2003) that people started wearing masks and living in a state of fear about the virus.
“There were echoes of New York [after 9/11],” Dohrn says. “How do people process fear?”
He fused the health issue with a paranoia theme to get an unsettling comedy.
“When I am writing, it helps to have something that I am conflicted about,” he says. “I feel scared at times living in New York — the way things are collapsing, but people can’t shut themselves in a bubble world.”
Real health scares, hysteria and hypochondria all come together in the play. Dohrn has a gift for finding poetic ambiguity in labels and turns of phrase and finding humor in awkward personal moments (a la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe).
Southern Rep is part of the play’s rolling premiere, supported by the national New Plays Network. The Southen Rep run is through April 5. The play will be staged in Upstate New York in the summer. Dohrn is also looking forward to a production of his work Magic Forest Farm this summer. It’s a play about people who grew up on a commune and return to it as adults.