Dance of the Seven Hospital Gowns
by Jessica Stokes
Cast of Characters
DOCTOR: A man wearing a white coat.
CAMERAMAN: A person with an old box camera and handheld flash. Face completely obscured by black sheet.
ATTENDANT: A man wearing scrubs.
PATIENT: A woman with a disability wearing a hospital gown, plain stockings, and institutional underwear.
AUDIENCE: Three bystanders holding smart phones.
OFFSTAGE: A commanding voice.
MAN: A confused man.
Setting: A theater. A single hospital bed sits center stage. A closed curtain is hung down center.
Enter CAMERAMAN. CAMERAMAN establishes location up right and does not move for the rest of the production.
Enter DOCTOR. DOCTOR opens curtain.
Enter AUDIENCE from house through curtain.
DOCTOR: (TO OFFSTAGE) Line?
OFFSTAGE: Tonight, fine citizens…
DOCTOR: No one would say that.
OFFSTAGE: According to the dramaturge it’s accurate to the time period.
DOCTOR: What time period exactly? All we have is a curtain, a hospital bed, and an elderly camera.
OFFSTAGE: Get back on script.
Doctor: Tonight, fine citizens, you will see contorted bodies and the minds that match them. You will learn to identify dull-normals from their specific bodily signs. You will meet a patient afflicted with madness as well as a few feeble-minded females. To our best estimates, the feeble-minded make up 2.5 percent of the…
Enter ATTENDANT, carrying PATIENT, interrupting…
ATTENDANT: Make way! Stand back! Keep your voices quiet! I’ve brought the first patient.
PATIENT: Oh, you must be exhausted from carrying me, Jon. I’m well over the threshold now. Why don’t you just lay me on the bed?
DOCTOR: Attendant, put the patient on the bed. (To AUDIENCE) I will now field any questions you may have about this patient’s derangement.
DOCTOR crosses to AUDIENCE and they converse in dull tones.
PATIENT: I’m out of jokes. I’m cold. Do I have to do this in front of them?
(Gestures to AUDIENCE)
(Gestures to CAMERAMAN)
ATTENDANT: Medicine needs you and…I don’t want to say this next part, but I can picture it there on the page…Medicine needs you and your funny little body. That (gestures to CAMERAMAN) is how he will teach people to recognize what’s wrong with others experiencing your same symptoms. He needs the publicity and you need his help.
PATIENT: But I….
DOCTOR finishes his conversation with AUDIENCE and returns to ATTENDANT.
DOCTOR: Attendant, I believe I told you to place the patient on the bed. We need the rest of the supplies for the demonstration, and you have other patients to prepare.
ATTENDANT: (placing PATIENT on bed) Can I get you some water?
PATIENT: Surely there are more interesting things you can get me.
ATTENDANT: (exiting the stage) Water and heated blankets it is.
DOCTOR: The patient will now remove the gown and stockings.
PATIENT sexually rolls down stockings and removes gown revealing institutional undergarments.
PATIENT: (TO OFFSTAGE) Do I really have to be so clinical?
OFFSTAGE: I don’t see anyone else in a clinician’s jacket.
DOCTOR removes the white coat.
FORMER DOCTOR walks offstage.
MAN walks on stage looking confused.
MAN puts on white coat.
MAN is now DOCTOR.
DOCTOR: (While rolling pointer down PATIENT’s back) Notice the arch of the back is like that of an elderly person suffering from dementia.
(While gesturing with pointer toward PATIENT’s eyes, one at a time)
See the uneven eyes. Physiognomy is just beginning to show us the link between derangement of the mind and misalignment of the face.
(While pointing at PATIENT’s hands and feet)
Note the lack of control of the limbs. This shaking demonstrates the patient lacks the psychic capacity to restrain the physical form.
PATIENT stands and removes undergarments, smiling at AUDIENCE.
(DOCTOR clears throat and points to breasts and genitals.)
Note… the breasts and vulva of the patient, demonstrating she is female.
(To Offstage) Attendant!
(To AUDIENCE) As you can see from these obvious physical features, the patient is a…yes…well…the fact of this will be ever clearer in the following demonstration.
ATTENDANT enters with blanket, water, and a large syringe.
DOCTOR nods toward PATIENT.
ATTENDANT on seeing PATIENT drops water.
ATTENDANT: Oh dear, you must be cold. (To AUDIENCE) Look away! Look away! It will just be a second while I cover the patient.
ATTENDANT, with head turned away but periodically peeking, wraps PATIENT in blanket.
PATIENT: Why the syringe, Jon?
DOCTOR: Now the attendant will inject a calming fluid in the patient so that we can more freely observe the movements of the irregular body.
PATIENT: (Shrugging off blanket) You don’t need to do that to freely observe my body. (Begins dancing around ATTENDANT. ATTENDANT openly gazes.)
DOCTOR: (To ATTENDANT) Please restrain the patient. (To Audience) As you can see, the patient’s lack of psychic ability prevents the fluidity of motion a high-functioning moron or a common person possesses.
PATIENT runs hand down ATTENDANT’S arm to take syringe during dance.
PATIENT dances behind attendant, lifts his coat and injects him with the syringe.
ATTENDANT falls to the floor between PATIENT’s legs.
PATIENT continues dancing.
DOCTOR: The derangement of the patient can be seen by the movement of the eyes, as previously stated, and the madness which afflicts her body can be seen in her present actions. Unfortunately, we will not be seeing any other patients tonight. This concludes the demonstration of feeblemindedness. Please exit the theater.
DOCTOR closes curtain and wheels it around, keeping it between AUDIENCE and PATIENT as AUDIENCE returns to the house.
ATTENDANT remains unmoving on the floor.
Doctor: Again, this concludes the presentation.
Spot from behind on PATIENT to project shadow dance. DOCTOR keeps moving curtain to obscure PATIENT.
PATIENT continues dancing.
PATIENT is still dancing as main curtain closes.
A native Michigander, Jessica Suzanne Stokes is currently displaced and studying poetry in Boston University's MFA program. She co-coordinates the Breakwater Reading Series, and she founded/hosts a monthly open mic night known as Open Floor (the proceeds of which have gone to support organizations for amnesty including Freedom House in Detroit).