LAPD + Wunderbaum, Hospital

How can we redefine community care? LAPD + Wunderbaum poke at our public conscience about health care affordability

"Hospital", an ambitious stage experiment by two groundbreaking theater companies - Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) and Wunderbaum - examines the realities of contemporary healthcare in an engrossing narrative of love, life, money, and death.

Their experiment begins and ends with the quest to understand how a nation can provide quality care and quality of life to ALL its citizens. While the subject of health care reform test the limits of the theatrical form, LAPD (a theater group that works with the homeless in L.A.’s Skid Row, one of the largest populations of homeless in the U.S.) and Wunderbaum (a small Dutch collective of improve artists from Rotterdam) find a provocative narrative to address critical questions with humor, creativity, and clever stagecraft.

Based on true stories from cast members, the show is told through the life journey of one man - John Malpede (LAPD's Founding Artistic Director). It opens with John's birth in 1945 and continues through his time as an artist in NYC in the 1960s and L.A. in the 1980s, tying his personal story into the development of the health care industry in both the Netherlands and the U.S.

"Hospital" projects its narrative onto a complicated backdrop. Ironically, just as the United States embraces the newly legislated Affordable Health Care Act, the Netherlands shifts its focus away from government intervention toward free market forces. Hospital uses this juxtaposition as the perfect context for comic debate on poignant social issues surrounding affordable care.

Actors whirl around in a dynamic vortex, portraying successive entanglements with doctors, surgeons, insurers, and stacks and stacks of bills. Three or four cameras onstage capture the action and project footage in real time on a large screen, alluding to the clichés of TV medical dramas. Fresh and original, political and raw, the rapid changing of characters, camera frames, and pace become a metaphor for how people get lost in the shuffle of the system.

In some ways, the performance raises more questions than it answers. It positions medical professionals, politicians, patients, insurance and pharmaceutical reps in a complicated web where opponents and victors never truly emerge, and the only losers seem to be the patients- or pretty much everyone except the wealthy few.

In its sharpest focus, "Hospital" shows how The Affordable Care Act, despite its best intentions, barely addresses the true needs of the individuals that are most vulnerable, and most alone. LAPD and Wunderbaum succeed in portraying a loneliness inherent in our culture’s focus on individualism, self reliance, and self importance.

"Hospital" ends on a note of hope. In the Netherlands, an emerging alternative model called Buurtzorg (“neighborhood care”) re-instills the importance of village, community, and family in an individual’s life. These community-based groups provide care in more personal, less centralized ways, for better quality at a cheaper price. 

In this hysterical journey of Malpede’s personal experience, Hospital leaves us with a tangible sense that, despite endless headache and heartache, the system can change… for the common good.

Visit LAPD and Wunderbaum websites for more information about the show.