Watching a person suffer through gruesome, highly contagious and fatal diseases, only to be revived just before death, seems an unlikely spectator sport.
However, Adam Rapp has based "Nursing," the third play in his new "Hallway Trilogy," on that bizarre premise. The same Lower East Side tenement hallway where the first two plays took place 50 years apart has become, in the disease-free world of 2053, a somewhat rundown-looking tourist attraction called the "Museum of Disease and Nursing."
Regretfully, Rapp's execution of his intriguing futuristic concept is disgusting, off-putting and tedious, despite the best efforts of a talented cast in the uneven production currently performing off-Broadway at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre.
Trip Cullman, who so tastefully directed the recent drama "A Small Fire" at Playwrights Horizons, has gone another route here, creating a lurid, blood-and-excrement-laden gorefest. Rapp's seesaw script alternates genuinely sympathetic moments of human yearning, grief and despair with melodramatic plotting.
Sue Jean Kim is delightfully artificial as Sandra, a perky tour guide, who shepherds the audience/museum attendees through basics of global plague history, cautioning everyone to stay well back from the hermetically sealed glass wall that now encases the hallway.
Through the museum's one-way glass, a volunteer patient can be watched 24/7 as he is injected with now-extinct deadly diseases and suffers horrific symptoms while declining to near death. The patient on view, Lloyd, willingly endures the "insufferable afflictions" of Black Death, cholera and one that Rapp invents, called Blackfrost. Beowulf Borrit has designed a shabby hospital room filled with simple, accurate touches, as well as a fully visible toilet and shower.
Logan Marshall-Green does a heroic job as Lloyd, who's living with dark guilt over wartime atrocities he committed and desperately welcomes the idea of death. Marshall-Green invests Rapp's sardonic dialogue with deep emotional layers, as Lloyd insults his visitors, jokes around with black humor, and is occasionally consumed with grief.
Despite his ongoing despair, Lloyd makes connections with his nurses and a security guard. Louis Cancelmi is earnestly sweet as Nurse Andy, while Maria Dizzia is briskly efficient and slightly mysterious as Nurse Joan. Stephen Tyrone Williams gives a broody air to his menacing portrayal of the security guard.
Kim's tour guide provides some occasional, much-needed comic relief between gory scenes of Lloyd's explicit medical symptoms, for instance giving a bizarre but rousing recital of Rudyard Kipling's "Cholera Camp" when Lloyd takes on that disease.
The plot turns muddy, and the play spirals to a rushed, histrionic ending. "Nursing' doesn't feel clearly connected to the other two parts of Rapp's trilogy, which both offer more sensitive, thoughtful productions. "The Hallway Trilogy" is performing in repertory through March 20.