Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 19, 2014

Ether Dome

HartfordStage, Hartford, CT
through October 5, 2014
by Jarice Hanson

The publicity for HartfordStage’s production of Elizabeth Egloff’s new play, “Ether Dome”, uses the term “exhilarating,” leading the reader to suspect hyperbole. Instead, the word is an apt description for the energetic, engrossing story that unfolds. Egloff tells the story of four men whom were instrumental in the quest for relieving human suffering and what might be considered the “birth” of modern health care. In the process, humanity vs. opportunism, science vs. superstition, and change vs. the status quo become interwoven themes.

Can the invention of anesthetic be attributed to only one man? Should Hartford dentist Dr. Horace Wells who used laughing gas to calm his patients get the credit? Should it be his apprentice, the ne’re do well William Morton, who attempted to patent the gas? Was it Dr. Charles Jackson, who favored science over superstition, or Dr. John Collins Warren, the founder of Mass General, who feared change? As the story unfolds, each of these men undergoes personal transformation as the medical world shifts. Egloff writes that Wells, for example, may have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Does that pique your interest?

The excellent ensemble cast is complimented by a brilliant scene and projection design by James Youmans who transforms the stage from the surgical space of the Ether Dome (which still exists at Mass General Hospital) to a variety of locations from Boston to Washington D.C., including a visually stunning representation of a New York subway platform. But the master of the show is director Michael Wilson who moves his cast through a fast-paced two hours and forty minutes of human drama and comedy as the personal stories unfold.  

Ether Dome is a gift to an audience who appreciate the occasional joke about Hartford and Boston, but who find the real story of a scientific breakthrough as mesmerizing as the drama and history that unfolds. HartfordStage has produced a winner with this very original, fascinating theatrical experience.