By Carrie Robbins
Directed by Tazewell Thompson
Produced by Days of the Giants LLC
Nominations: Brandon McNeel is nominated for Outstanding Set Design; Scott Munson is nominated for Outstanding Original Music; Tony Naumovski is nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role; Carrie Robbins is nominated for Outstanding Costume Design; Tazewell Thompson is nominated for Outstanding Director; and Jenne Vath is nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role
About this Production
Sawbones is set in a Civil War Field Hospital in Virginia in 1862 - where medicine is sparse and need is great - and depicts what ensues when a freeman of color brings in a teenage Rebel requiring immediate attention for his shattered leg. The 2nd half follows the story of several characters 10 years later.
The Diamond Eater, based on a true story reported by a surgeon, is set in a German camp in 1945 where a senior squad leader undertakes an experiment: he enlists a Jewish surgeon to transplant a gypsy's kidney into a Jew to determine if the Jew can survive. The doctor & the patient outwit the Nazi.
Carrie Robbins, Brandon McNeel, Tony Naumovski, Scott Munson, and Jenne Vath discuss their work on this production that delves into the nature of medicine and medical providers who often hold another human being’s life in their hands.
What attracted you to this project?
Carrie: I had heard these real stories as family reportage for many years. What I was seeing and working on in my own theatre work was becoming less interesting to me than these provocative stories. After 9/11, when the young men started coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq, many as amputees, the recuperation was so unbearable for them, and so long, I began to think of one of the big questions in Sawbones; "If we can save them, should we?" And as the Affordable Care Act became so dominant in our news, another question: “What exactly does it take to become a doctor? Who wants to do this job?” I decided to see if I could suggest a few answers, or at least provoke some thought on the subject, by looking back at another war. As to The Diamond Eater, I was told the story almost 30 years ago, found it unforgettable, and as it took place during a different war and involved surgery (though of a different kind) I thought some useful parallels might be drawn.
Brandon: Gritty subversive subject matter, a wonderful design team and director.
Tony: I savored the challenge of bringing to life such a villain and make him human.
Scott: The eclectic nature of the material, the time it was set in and the people involved.
Jenne: The rich storytelling in these powerful plays by Carrie Robbins.
What was your favorite part of this production?
Carrie: Seeing it all come alive after having it stuck in my head for so long was thrilling!
Brandon: Getting to know my design team and the production was a bit of a reunion for me and fellow CMU alums. It was a pleasure to make professional work together.
Tony: The German accent. I have never done it before and it brought a lot of dimension the character, both psychologically and physically.
Scott: Working closely with Carrie Robbins and Tazewell Thompson as well as Natalia 'Saw Lady' Paruz.
Jenne: Working with the great artists who were on board, all around creative top notch artists. Every day of rehearsal and run was a creative feast!
What was the most challenging part of this production?
Carrie: Overcoming the difficulty of the material, the natural squeamishness of some of the parts, the callous brutality, but not sugar-coating it, not compromising the raw awfulness in parts of both plays. And I'm sure we were not 100% successful because several people became faint and had to leave. Others told me it was just too much and that they couldn't 'look'. I took that as a real tribute to the skills of the actors since there was no attempt to suggest any blood at all. To me, it was also a tribute to the real power of the theatre to 'show' (convincingly, viscerally!) what is not there at all.
Brandon: Dealing with some technical malfunctions proved to be a little trying, but we proudly paved our way through.
Tony: Making the character human though a villain. And always finding the humor even in the darkest characters or the darkest times of history. Playing a Nazi who experimented with human organs just for the sake of it, it is not the easiest thing to adjust to and not judge.
Scott: Keeping my computer from crashing!
Jenne: The challenge of rapidly becoming different characters, sometimes very rapidly. Of course that most challenging aspect was also one of the most thrilling.
What made this production so different?
Carrie: I suppose the two stories themselves were a bit different. We did have some fairly curious medical conversations during rehearsals, but those specifics are best left unsaid here. The rubbery casting bits of anatomy which went into a wheelbarrow were amusing to us, but once in place, painted, & carefully lit, they became a real celebration of the art of the theatre, much to most of our surprise.
Brandon: Both pieces dealt with rather subversive, and somewhat graphic elements of surgery and medical subject matter. (Which immediately got my dark brain excited).
Tony: When we did the tech rehearsal for the very first time with full costume and lights and all of it, I was waiting for my first entrance. I get on stage and I hear the wonderful director Tazewell Thompson saying 'Oh my God you look like you just walked out of that era.' Finding a Nazi in his glamorous robe in his office with a Chinese fan with a dragon on it, I thought that was a very powerful element we added to this rather menacing character, and with this we found maybe a little secret in him, a bit of a soft side to him.
Scott: The audiences’ reaction (positive) to the use of the musical saw in the score.
Jenne: We had live "saw" music in the play Sawbones, rendered with haunting beauty by the great Natalia "Saw Lady" Paruz. I had never heard live saw music in a theater piece. It often sounds like the human voice wanting to say something unspeakable. It's achingly beautiful and greatly effective in theater.
What did you want the audience to take away from your production?
Carrie: ANY further consideration by the audience beyond the curtain call is wonderful. In Sawbones, for example: how field medicine was in its infancy during the Civil War...what it must have been like before anyone acknowledged the Germ Theory of Disease...how almost impossible it was that a black man could become a doctor in the 1860s...what it must have been like to cross the ocean to get to Med School...how tough women had to be in the 1860s/70s to get in a wagon and travel west to homestead... how a singular woman with entrepreneurial spirit might survive in those early times (and in corset and bustle)...
In Diamond Eater: Can an evil man from an evil war actually have an idea which, many years later, is not only a good idea, but which can make a long chain of sick people healthy again? (The NY Times a year or so ago reported a chain of 35 successful kidney transplants from one start...incredible.) Can anyone want to survive so much that he/she would do what the jeweler in Diamond Eater did?