REVIEW | Rep’s ‘Roz and Ray’ tackles worthy topic but lacks oomph

There is no nice way to say it. This critic found “Roz and Ray” to be ... boring. A worthy subject but it made for mediocre theater.  As much as I wanted to like Seattle Repertory Theatre’s world premiere production, my heart never engaged.

The plot of “Roz and Ray” is anchored to hemophilia, the rare bleeding disorder in which the blood fails to clot normally. This particular chapter of medical treatment became a victim of the AIDS epidemic, the devastating disease that claimed so many of our beloved friends and family.

The two-character play was touted as an intimate look at the relationship between a female doctor and a father. Playwright Karen Hartman  had good intentions, but for me, the result was an hour  and 40 minutes of  ennui. 

San Diego, 1970’s .  Ray Leon (Teagle F. Bougere), a single father, reaches out to a dedicated specialist, Dr. Roz Kagan (Ellen McLaughlin ), to treat his hemophiliac twin sons.  Dr. Roz  prescribes  Factor VIII replacement, a clotting protein extracted from  the  collective blood of donors--untested blood! When his boys become HIV positive, a ranting Ray blames Dr. Roz   Protests. Confrontation.  Slam-bang. They get it on. And off. And on again. 

The action bounces back and forth between the 1970s and the 1980s. We never see the twins, Mikey and Ray-Ray.  We only hear about them  via Greek -tragedy style, during papa Ray’s dialogues.

Admittedly, sometimes tragedy can bring people together, however, the romance in the plot seems contrived.  Okay, it’s  possible for a single father to fall in love with his  children’s doctor, and yes, love does make strange bedfellows. But, by the time this play turns to romance, audience interest has begun to wane.

It doesn’t help that McLaughlin gives a lackluster performance; her emotions, to borrow from the late Dorothy Parker, rarely strayed from A to B.  Bougere’s extroverted persona was more appealing as the devoted father, Ray. 

Behind the action Tim Mackabee’s set design was a bit reminiscent of Louise Nevelson’s ground-breaking  style of art.  Stark white cribs, teddy bears, toy trucks, rocking horses, bicycles, wheel chairs, etc. are tossed together as a metaphor for the havoc wrought in the children’s bodies. But it also looks as if  Hurricane Mathew had taken a detour to the Northwest.

This is hardly a medical thriller, as has been suggested. It is medical milquetoast. At times it was more like a medical lecture.  Clinical rather than dramatic. 

I understood the father’s despair, but I was seldom touched by it.  Nor was I touched by the romantic feelings that ensued. Nor the final resolution.  Maybe forgiveness can come during post-coital conversation. But the scene would have been far more powerful with a silent, old-fashioned embrace.

Hartman’s play is obviously a work in progress. Hopefully, she will keep honing it. “Roz and Ray” may not be in the same league as theater’s greatest hits, but those who have watched a loved one’s body shrivel up and die can relate. 

Losing a child will always be a tragedy.  Hemophilia will always be a tragedy—one out of every 5,000 boys will be born with it. AIDS will always be a tragedy—almost 700,000 have died in the US.

For this critic, the most tragic and redeeming moment of “Roz and Ray” came after the play ended.

While I was left wanting by the production, my guest was quite touched.  She could relate.  During that same period of time, her nephew was diagnosed a hemophiliac. When he was four years old, he started taking Factor VIII and subsequently became HIV positive.  At age 14, he and his family went public with his condition.  He died a year later.

My friend described how, as an aspiring athlete, he had been bullied and ostracized to the point that his plight made national news. Then she read aloud an interview with her nephew’s parents after their son had passed. In less than one minute, my heart was engaged.  She made me cry.

Sadly in 100-plus minutes, “Roz and Ray” did not.

“Roz and Ray” run through Nov. 13 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, tickets $16-$59, 206-443-2222 or