At La Jolla Playhouse, Michael Wilson directs Elizabeth Egloff’s Ether Dome, a co-production with Alley Theatre, Hartford Stage and Huntington Theatre Company. Based on the true story of the early days of medical anesthesia, this one is not for the faint of heart. There is “blood,” yowls of surgical pain and a couple of operations that may leave you weak in the knees, even though you’re sitting down. That said, Ether Dome (that’s the operating theater at Massachusetts General in Boston where all this drama and controversy unfolded in the mid-19th century) is a mesmerizing tale, especially in the second act when ambition and greed threaten to subvert the good that has come from minimizing patients’ suffering and pain while in surgery. The cast (fronted by Michael Bakkensen, Tom Patterson and William Youmans as rival credit-grabbers) is more than up to the task of making a squeamish story one you can’t look away from (well, most of the time). The re-creation of the actual Ether Dome (which still exists) adds to the authenticity and uneasiness of the audience experience.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat