Theater for the New City’s “Critical Care, or Rehearsals For a Nurse”: A Review

Theater for the New City (TNC)’s new musical Critical Care, or Rehearsals For a Nurse, was patently conceived to be performed at assorted outdoor spaces in all five boroughs of New York City during the summer of 2021.  The “takin’ it to the streets” plan couldn’t be more appropriate, because this delightful piece– in addition to being humorous, provocative, and culturally significant on many levels — is truly a love letter to our beloved hometown, written in an infinite variety of multi-colored inks.  Everything about Critical Care, or Rehearsals For a Nurse feels affectionately authentic, from the large, diverse cast to the lyrics in songs like NYCHA Housing (Yes, there IS a song called NYCHA Housing!):

“My bones shiver, I’m all aquiver;

 Five years on the waiting list, Five years living Room and Board; Get down on your knees and thank the Lord! 

You found an apartment you can afford”. 

TNC’s new show indeed captures the joyous verve of the city that reportedly never sleeps.  This is largely thanks to the talents of the play’s energetic, dedicated performers of all ages, ethnicities, and levels of experience.  But as every native New Yorker knows, life in the Big Apple isn’t always a 24 hour party– especially when we have been faced with such disasters as Hurricane Sandy in 2012 or, more recently, a very nasty virus. (More about that later…) One of the themes of the musical, in fact, is how New Yorkers do indeed pull together in times of crisis.

Written and directed by Executive Artistic Director of TNC Crystal Field (who also plays the role of Lady Liberty!) with music composed by Joseph Vernon Banks, the nurse of the musical’s title is New York City girl Flora Martinez.  Flora is called “a child of the projects” by Dr. Porter (Michael-Davin Gordon), who proudly delivered her.  She is as tough as the neighborhood she grew up in.  And… she is studying to be a nurse!  Flora takes a job in a nursing home, which not only gives her the chance to learn her trade, but also gives the audience a chance to enjoy the hilarious song Who We Really Are, with lyrics like:

“The doctor he don’t listen. He gives orders and he goes;

If ya wanna shoulder to cry on, or an ear that’s open- never closed;

Or someone who won’t back away when the pain makes you scream and curse,

Getta Nurse! Getta Nurse! Getta Nurse!”  

It’s not long, however, before the neophyte caregiver Flora and the entire nursing home staff are challenged by an unwanted visitor: COVID -19, played by T. Scott Lilly as a pugnacious, hot-headed blowhard (Let’s just say that orange makeup would have made the look complete…)   Patients start to surrender, but the staff puts up a good fight.  There’s also backup support from a clown from the “Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit” (Terry Lee King) who challenges the virus’ buffoonery and rallies under-represented people from all aspects of NYC life to join the battle.  Ultimately, however, the best chance of hope comes in the form of… (drumroll please) a vaccine, personified on stage by Danielle Aziza as “Lady Hypodermic”! Will there be a happy ending– or, at least, a chance for a new chapter with a positive outlook?  Will Flora Martinez finally realize her dream of becoming a nurse?

In addition to exploring the issues of the pandemic from the perspective of the health care workers, Critical Care, or Rehearsals For a Nurse takes great effort in pointing out the parallel struggles which were affecting America at the time: the tense political scenario and the persistent issues of inequality with regard to race, gender, economic status, and sexual orientation.  Most importantly, the play reinforces that, ultimately, it’s pretty much all the SAME fight.  While the musical explores serious issues, the play never gets too heavy or maudlin; much of the more serious stuff is done in a campy, over-the-top way while still maintaining its vital core message.  It’s also worth adding that Critical Care, or Rehearsals For a Nurse  is suitable for all ages.  Even its sole “naughty” moment– some funny lyrics about a, shall we say, “liaison” between two elderly patients at the nursing home– is coded just enough to go over the kiddies’ heads. 

Critical Care, or Rehearsals For a Nurse succeeds on a triple level.  It is an entertaining musical.  It is a welcome tribute to nurses and other health care workers, especially the touching finale.  Last but not least, it is a warm-hearted reminder of why New York City– even with all its challenges– is still the greatest city in the world. 

Theater For the New City’s Critical Care, or Rehearsals For a Nurse  continues through Sunday, September 12 at various locations throughout New York City. This show is free.  Visit here for more information, locations, and showtimes: TNC Street Theater Summer Tour CRITICAL CARE, or REHEARSALS FOR A NURSE – Theater for the New City

(This article was originally posted 8/30/21; updated 9/6/21.)

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