Crisis at the Clinic

Theatre Review by Larry P. Madden

College of Menominee Nation’s original summer 2016 production of Crisis at the Clinic opened with a humorous ode to an old protest song which set the stage for the show. It was both reverent and irreverent as it tackled the comings and goings of a busy clinic environment. The reception and customer relations help establish characters who will play to us from start to finish.

The song’s updated lyrics were sung by the character Icky, played by Doris Menore, who played the comically-aggravated foil to the action. She was joined by a straight man/clinic attendant named Leon, played by Lee Cornelius, and an exposé blogger named Hank, played by Kerry Cornelius. The story’s central conflict, or “crisis”, was introduced from the get-go, but the characters’ failed to recognize it due to personal egos and a general sense of self-centeredness. Then there was the narcissistic Doctor Jack, portrayed by stage veteran Dylan Benton. He was one of those truly love-hate characters. So full of himself, yet his lines were so over the top that he was able to keep us riveted in spite of ourselves.

The arrival of a new nurse upsets the balance of the already off-center orbit of the clinic’s universe. Jealousy and misogyny go hand in hand as Nurse Joey, portrayed by Courtney Behrendt, struggles to adjust. She tumbles into a swirling turmoil of drama at the emotional vortex, landing in the middle of a catfight between receptionist Icky and Nurse Jewel (played by Kaluyatatsyes Rice John)--both holding torches for Dr. Jack and seeing Joey as a threat. Still, the jealousy and cattiness amongst the women shows they’re ignoring the real issue at hand—water pollution leaking into Duck Creek and poisoning Oneida residents.girl on stage

The unseen twist in the story is revealed by the relationship between Nurse Joey and a young girl in traditional dress, portrayed by Isabella Thomas. Their exchanges not only bring the pollution problem to a head, but in a twist no one saw coming, the little girl reveals she is the spirit of Joey’s long-deceased sister. Throughout the play, she’s overlooked as the girl who was always passed over for treatment, but in the end we realize she couldn’t rest until the corporation who poisoned her was brought to justice.

The actors comfort and sense of comedic and dramatic timing was a testament to director Ryan Winn’s leadership. Moreover, the technical team had a chance to shine with multiple costume and lighting changes. Yet, the future of Native theater in Wisconsin can be found in the show’s assistant director, Elizabeth Rice. Liz not only gave the welcoming address, she stepped up her role in rehearsals and is thinking beyond her education at CMN. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, she plans to return to the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa community, establish a theater program, and use the stage to promote the arts in northern Wisconsin. Rice’s passion and vision for the future of her own people is proof of why CMN’s theater program is expanding horizons with every production it stages.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.