PLAYWRIGHT’S LAB: “STANDARD PROCEDURE” BY SOPHIE KELLY ’25posted on May 10th, 2023 by Reyn Ricafort
BY ISADORA ZUCKER ’25
It can be difficult to move forward from the past, especially when it comes in the form of your ex-boyfriend’s dead body. But, that is something that Dr. Katherine Andrews, the protagonist of the recent playwright’s lab Standard Procedure, must deal with. Written by Sophie Kelly ’25, Standard Procedure explores the way that people make amends with their past and process their grief. The first reading of this play was performed on February 20th, with a revised performance on April 24th, both taking place in Skidmore Theater’s Studio A.
The show begins in a mortuary as Dr. Katherine Andrews (Victoria Calabrese ’24) is preparing to embalm a final body before clocking out for the night. As Katherine is finishing her preparations, Midge (Sofia Fenner ’25), a nurse at the mortuary and Katherine’s girlfriend enters and asks Katherine when she plans to head back to their house. After a bit of banter, Midge brings in the final body and tells Katherine she’ll be waiting outside for her to finish. Katherine moves to begin the embalming process but startles when she recognizes the corpse as her ex-boyfriend Patrick Taylor (Lucas Falick ’25). She screams, waking the presumably dead Patrick, and the two share a frantic moment of audible confusion. After calming herself down, Katherine asks Patrick what he remembers, leading him to recount an unforeseen allergic reaction to some marshmallow scones. She continues to perform the standard steps of the embalming process, assuring both Patrick and herself that this is simply her job and means nothing more to either of them. Patrick is still unaware of the true nature of their meeting and continues to poke fun at Katherine throughout the procedure, frequently claiming that his “new girlfriend wouldn’t treat [him] like this.”
As is in character for him, Patrick begins to talk himself into a corner, complaining about how little time Katherine gave him during their relationship and wishing she didn’t pursue her career in what he believes to be STEM and eventually med school. The actors did an incredible job working off each other, nodding to the messy history between the two with palpable tension, particularly during these opening moments. They were helped along by the humorous but achingly relatable script written by Kelly, who clearly kept the talents of the actors in mind when reworking the text.
Patrick and Katherine continue to talk, both reflecting on the reasons for their breakup and re-experiencing some of their incompatibilities in real-time. It culminates when Katherine shares that she may show her love in more unconventional ways, but that her lack of convention does not negate her love for him; Patrick, ever the contrarian, brushes her off…Katherine continues with her work after a loaded pause. Patrick continues to question her, though this time with more focus on the nature of her chosen career path. Continuing to deflect his questioning, Katherine begins to prepare an IV with cavity fluid, causing Patrick to crack a joke about the severity of his allergic reaction. Katherine laughs, which is both the first time the audience sees a true glimpse of the bond the two of them used to share and a sign to Patrick that he might be getting through to her.
Patrick pushes this opening further by claiming that he had never been able to move on from Katherine as she was his muse. He claims that all he asks is for one more night together to try and work things out. However, Katherine shuts him down with more severity than we have seen from her before and continues the embalming process. At this point, the various steps are beginning to cause Patrick physical pain, leading him to interrogate Katherine about the true nature of his visit. The silence from Katherine fuels Patrick’s frustration as begins to yell and chastise her for being obsessed with her work and not showing him enough affection “like a normal person” (Kelly). After being ignored, Patrick tries to appeal to Katherine one last time by justifying his litany of insults as his remaining love for her.
Katherine, unsure of how to respond, continues on with her work. She places eye caps onto him, thick pieces of plastic that hold the corpse’s eyes shut. Patrick tries to get more explanation out of her but realizes he can no longer sit up and is forced to stay still on the examination table. Panic sets in, and for the first time in the play, Patrick appears truly afraid as he orders and begs Katherine to stop what she is doing. Katherine gets worked up as well, her obvious anger showing palpable tinges of grief. Alas, she finishes the final step of the embalming process and Patrick’s jaw wires shut with a violent crunch. Lifelessly still, Patrick finally resembles the dead state he has truly existed the entire time.
Midge enters again to find a shaking Katherine sunken to the floor. She immediately asks what happened, offering comfort and reassurance. The two agree to return to their house and put the night behind them. At the end of the play, Katherine gains the strength to stand and push Patrick’s corpse into the storage room offstage before leaving the examination room.
Standard Procedure explores the complexities of love and grief and the inevitability of having one eventually lead to the other. The elements of suspended reality in the show, particularly the talking corpse, nod towards the odd ways we as people deal with such overwhelmingly intangible emotions; Patrick’s presence in the show exists as a kind of manifestation of Katherine’s conflicted feelings and as an outlet for her long bottled-up emotions of love, hate, insecurity, and grief. Kelly was able to craft a funny, touching, and bittersweet story, one which felt startlingly real despite the impossible circumstances.
Photos by Coltrane Cho ’24
Isadora Zucker ’25 is a staff writer for the Skidmore Theater Living Newsletter