Hospital Orderly Peter Russel does not quite appear the cut of a hero.
But the hunched and husky-voiced 46-year-old has a fearsome pastime. At the weekends, he likes to battle Vikings.
Making up beds as he hides out from his boss in a hospital ward, Peter croaks about his weekend reenactments of the 991 Battle of Maldon. But when he steps on stage as Earl Byrhtnoth, his words boom out as though against the waves that separated the Anglo-Saxons from the Viking hoards.
Recounting the ancient battle in which the English earl fought off the invaders beside the River Blackwater in Essex during the reign of Aethelred the Unready, we can feel Peter’s life passions transposed upon a far-off history that he has made his own. Today he has brought in his long sword with the hope of impressing a lady patient.
Like this quirky character, Michael Downey’s solo play “The Orderly” is ambitious too. The actor and writer takes on the entire cast of hospital staff with a light touch of wit and humanity that brings each character to likeable life. We can all recognize the puffed-up security guard, prissy nurse and suave doctor that pop out from our humble hero’s skin.
This common workplace cast is offset, but not belittled, by the warriors that roar from time to time from the back of the stage.
So many characters in a one-man show must be exhausting, and it is a shame that Downey flags just a little toward the end. His energy falters a touch at the moment when he has the audience right in the palm of his hand, waiting to hear both the fighters’ and Peter’s fate.
Byrhtnoth lost, and toward the end Peter’s personal battles look daunting too. But dressing up and returning to the 10th century each weekend seems to give him reason to plough ahead.
This poignant hourlong play highlights hopes and dreams, life and death as it swings easily between the epic and the mundane. Peter shows us that the humdrum can contain the heroic, if we only look within ourselves to find it.
Following a three-night run last weekend, “The Orderly” will play this Friday at 9 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. at White Box Theater, near Hyochang Park Subway Station. Visit www.probationarytheatre.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. Booking is required and tickets cost 15,000 won.
By Kirsty Taylor (email@example.com