The double-entendre title of this NY Fringe production refers to both the candies kept on hand by social worker Becca (Margaret Daly) and, more obliquely, to the powerless pawns who must navigate the tsunami of bureaucracy that results from the illness of a loved one. The fable traces the primary character, Bryce (Sarah Grace Wilson) as she wanders through the maze of the American health care (or should we say, health insurance?) system during her father’s grave and ultimately fatal illness.
Never fear for spoilers – really, this isn’t a play about Bryce’s individual journey, but rather what her journey represents. Along her health care Commedia, Bryce learns (sans a kindly Virgil to show her the way through the maze) how even though her father tried to make provisions along the course of his life for his care in the event of a catastrophic event, the Sweet Insurance Company (personified with grandiose flair by Zachary Fine) has other ideas. With deep pockets and commitment to making them deeper, Sweet pecks and needles at each of the characters in turn, the self-christened “spirit of the insurance company.”
But wait. This is theater, and Bryce can fight back. Thanks to a stroke of fate, she’s able to afford both a lawyer and the best neurosurgeon in the world. She’s not rich, we’re told, but she’s “well off.” She’s also a bit of a brat, although by virtue of watching her struggle along at her father’s side, refusing to give up because other than him, she’s all alone in the world, we can sympathize with the exhaustion and tension she must be feeling.
Where writer Susan Dworkin makes this play a subtler critique of the system than one usually expects is in showing both the positives and negatives – though mostly the negatives – of the current ways health care reaches various strata of society. Sure, Bryce has to pay full cost for her father’s doctor, but a family of illegal immigrants receive the procedure for their dad pro bono. In the end, it’s the super-rich who can pay for the care they want outside the health insurance industry system, and if the super-rich make their money off morally questionable activities, well…so do the insurance companies. In Dworkin’s vision, it’s the middle class that gets screwed.
Although the play feels long at just under an hour and a half, the musical numbers and extremely dark humor help bring a further touch of absurdity to the production. An education inherent in the walk through the pitfalls of trying to find affordable health care for your elders will no doubt be of benefit to a number of theater-goers (that is, if it doesn’t send them running to their psychiatrists in despair).
In a final confrontation, Dworkin’s characters suggest that the only way to triumph over the system is to either challenge it from within or to make enough money to remove oneself from it. Interestingly, the idea of government-run health care never enters the debate, which makes the script seem a bit out of sync with modern times, and one wonders how it will age, but in the immediate future this is a play where the ideas will engage you more than the production itself.