Half Straddle's Nurses in New England at Soho Think Tank

Jess Barbagallo & Annie McNamara in Half Straddle's "Nurses in New England." Photo by Ryan Trupp.

Half Straddle‘s Nurses in New England, playing through Sat., July 31 as part of the Soho Think Tank’s Ice Factory, is hardly without its charms. Tongue firmly in cheek, playwright Tina Satter sends up virtually every medical TV show cliche through this musical set in a small town hospital run, inexplicably, entirely by nurses. In New England. (“It’s very specific,” a character quips at one point.)

There’s the slightly bitter and world-weary head of nursing, Derek Shepherd (Jess Barbagallo), fond of secret smokes and booze cruises, trying to juggle ER drama and her new, nerve-wracked intern fond of narrating her own life (Emily Davis) with the unwelcome reappearance of her former partner Lois Lewis (Annie McNamara), whose own carefree, hospital-hopping lifestyle is running smack-dab into the brick wall that is her new-found passion for brash, balls-to-the-wall EMT Abby Lockhart (Erin Markey).

Throw in some stuffed animals, sweet supporting characters, and a bunch of one-liners, and you pretty much have the show. It’s clever, usually funny, and entertaining enough at 75 minutes. By and large, the casting is good. Barbagallo has amazing stage presence and plays exasperated quite well, and she and McNamara have a nice chemistry racing through occasionally nonsensical medical terminology or re-hashing their own troubled past. And Erin Markey easily takes the cake for best performance of the show, charismatically belting out her number–and I was assured this was her toned-down performance, in comparison to Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tale, which was recently at soloNOVA at P.S. 122.

But if the show has a fault (aside from occasionally uneven singing and under-realized choreography), it’s that it’s too comfortable in the fringe theatre mode (with admitted slightly higher production values). I haven’t seen Half Straddle’s Family, which apparently went over well last year at the Ontological and won a fair bit of praise, but Nurses in New England doesn’t offer much besides winking, absurdist parody of well-worn TV tropes with a sapphic twist, and while the musical composition by Chris Giarmo is good, it also remains fairly true to standard pop musical formulas. It’s fun, but doesn’t seem all that ambitious.

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