The Pill, which was performed at The Splendid in Valletta, is not about the contraceptive pill taken by women, as it would have meant for many people a few decades ago. Instead, it refers to the dream of so many scientists and ordinary people, of having a single pill to supplant a myriad different pills popped by most of us every day.
This 60-minute monologue, conceived and performed by Ira Melkonyan, is The Rubberbodies’ latest production, straddling the worlds of scientific discussion and theatrical entertainment. It aims, with some success, to keep an audience mildly amused and entertained while making it think about the stresses caused by worries about health and about how to cope with them.
Jimmy Farrugia’s direction frankly acknowledges the piece’s educative function by making the small audience sit in rising ranks of not over-comfortable seating. This is clearly meant to be a classroom/lecture hall housing a lab bench out of which emerge many props.
Some are the normal scientific sort, and there is also a board on which Melkonyan often writes. Her writing, however, extends to the wall beyond the board; while the writing on the board relates to her scientific exposition, the other relates to her life as a child and later as a university student of microbiology in her home-town, Odessa.
Like students in class, members of the audience are asked from time to time to answer a question or to participate in some other way.
As a lecturer, what she stresses is that all of us try to solve our health problems by attacking them through our doctors and the pills they prescribe for each single ailment.
We also try to solve them by trying a holistic approach through learning, for instance, how to breathe properly, with the aim of reducing the imbalances caused in our bodies by our ailments and by our attempts to attack each one of them.
Donning a frilly child’s frock, she acts out from her own life events affecting her views on health. This is most notable when her mother, on giving birth to her, was given an anaesthetic that caused her to go into coma for three days.
This made her lose contact with her baby daughter at an essential period.
Melkonyan also has bad memories of the unhealthy cakes her mother used to bake upon each occasion her astronaut husband went on a mission. In fact, her relationship with her mother was clearly inferior to that with her father, whom she seems to have adored. A couple of times, she acts out the part a witch doctor prescribing folk remedies while putting on a fearful smile.
Right at the beginning, Melkonyan tells the audience about the long research that has led her to invent a pill that is a veritable panacea, superseding all the many pills so many of us have to take. She gives each audience member a specimen of the pill, but with a warning regarding the right time to have it.
Though she does not say it explicitly, it is difficult not to think that her real panacea for stress and depressive ailments lies in taking a holistic approach.