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Asia Minor

Laos-Set Tale Makes a Great Story But a Lousy Play

East Meets West: (from left) Maynard, Samantha Yon, and Froilan Mate in FPCT's OK, OK.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 8/7/2002


Gene Gately

In the mid-1950S, a former Navy doctor named Tom Dooley set up a series of bush hospitals in Laos. By fund-raising and using the royalties from his bestselling Vietnam memoir of his life in Vietnam, Deliver Us From Evil, Dooley constructed the hospitals and worked in them himself with a Laotian staff, treating everything from dysentery to small pox without luxuries like electricity. In the late '50s, Dooley was diagnosed with melanoma but continued to work in and raise money for his hospitals until his death in 1961 at the age of 34.

It's a good story, isn't it? And it's true to boot. It's also the basis for Gene Gately's Baltimore Playwrights Festival entry OK, OK. But as anyone who saw Tombstone can attest, a good story doesn't guarantee a good product. OK, OK is a cliché-ridden mess, awkwardly written and awkwardly performed. And I say this knowing full well that Gately could probably kill me with his bare hands.

The playwright is something of a good story himself. A retired senior executive at the CIA who has also done time as a journalist, corporate honcho, and Pentagon adviser, Gately has lived or worked in more than 100 countries and is frequently interviewed as an expert on international conflicts. He also knows a lot about his subject and setting, having worked as a journalist in Asia and served in the Navy with Tom Dooley himself. He even visited Dooley's hospital in Muong Sing, under almost identical circumstances to the ones he dramatizes here.

Standing in for the author onstage is hard-nosed reporter Harrison (Maynard), who comes to Dooley's hospital to write a scathing exposé about the barbaric conditions and general quackery that he expects to find there. When he arrives, Dooley is back in the States getting cancer treatment, and Dwight and Earl, the two other Americans on staff, have to leave to deal with a cholera epidemic in another village. Harrison is left alone with Noi, the Laotian head nurse, as he tries to figure out how to get his story and get the hell out of this presumably backward country. Things really get interesting when patients show up and assume that Harrison is a doctor because he is American.

It could have been funny or touching, but instead OK, OK rehashes the old cynical-American-learns-the-true-meaning-of-life-from-innocent-but-wise-natives bit, with a dash of white man's burden thrown in for good measure. Maynard, a mainstay on WQSR (102.7 FM)'s Rouse & Co. morning-drive-time show, plays Harrison in a state of perpetual annoyance--even when he's showing his gentler side he seems to be yelling. Donald Russell Owens as Dwight always seems to be searching for his next line. Samantha Yon as Noi and G. Scott Spence as Earl do their best to keep things moving, but they are fighting an uphill battle against director Kwame Jamal Kenyatta-Bey's stuttering pacing. The action occurs in fits and starts, scenes end abruptly, and there are times when the audience waits anxiously for an actor to just spit out a line. It also doesn't help that the very white Richard Peck has been cast as the village chief, playing him in makeup reminiscent of Mickey Rooney's wince-worthy Japanese turn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, or that Gately's script forces the characters to say the same things over and over again. OK, OK may have been based on a great story, but it doesn't even live up to its name.

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