Sick – Zayd Dohrn

sickPremiered at Kitchen Dog Theatre in Dallas in May, 2008.

Original Cast:

Sidney Krebs (49)                    James Crawford
Maxine Krebs (46)                    Lisa Hassler
Sarah Krebs (19)                      Martha Harms
Davey Krebs (17)                     Lee Helms
Jim (26)                                      Lee Trull

Director:  Chris Carlos
Set Design:  Michael Sullivan
Costume Design:  Christina Dickson
Sound Design:  Emily K. Young
Props:  Judy Niven and Jen Gilson-Gilliam

Publication:  Dohrn, Zayd. Sick. Samuel French, 2012. Drama Library PS3604. O47 S53 2012.

Setting:  A Safe Haven on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, present day

Language:  Contemporary


He had to have a schnozz cast in bronze strapped to his head with a leather belt just to show his face in public. But he kept writing until his brain was liquefied. And screwing too, apparently. Dead at 33. It’ll inspire you, I guarantee. Or at least turn you on.

Genre/Style:  Serio-comedic

Plot:  A poetry professor brings  one of his graduate students home to meet his dysfunctional family of germaphobes.  His wife is obsessed with cleanliness and never leaves home; his son was diagnosed as being allergic to 94 out of 99 household cleansers and never leaves home; and his 19-year-old daughter has just been accepted into a poetry program at St. Johns but isn’t sure if she should go.  Although the play deals with paranoia brought on by Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, it isn’t difficult to see it as a parable for any situation where unreasoning fear takes hold of lives and warps them out of true.  However, the second act feels rather anticlimactic, with the central tension in the play becoming, “Will Sarah break free of her family or not?” once the play reveals the truth of the family’s condition.


Representative Monologues:  Mono­logues con­tain the first few lines and the last few lines; please con­sult the pub­lished text for the mono­logue in its entirety.

p. 45:  Sidney explains why he snuck potentially fatal cleaning items, that caused a severe reaction in Davey, into the apartment.  


I was going through our files, last month… I found our wedding pictures, sitting in an envelope. Probably in there since we moved. Those old prints are full of photo fixer. That’s supposed to be one of Davey’s worst reactors. So I got rid of them. Scanned them at work, and then threw the prints away.  [Lines cut] I started—picking out other things, from the grocery store. Bleach. Oven cleaner. I got more and more excited, with every piece I brought home. Felt like I was—curing him, somehow…

p. 52-53:  Jim tells Sarah how he used to wish his father would abuse him so that he could suffer for his art like all great poets. 


Please. By the time Keats was my age, he was dead. I’m not blind. I do have a shred of self-perspective. (He chuckles.) You know, when I was little, I used to have this fantasy… I’d pretend my dad hit me… Abused me, somehow. I’d lie awake at night, imagining I had black eyes, busted lips, blood in my mouth, that kind of thing… [Lines cut] And he hit me. Finally. Right across the face. Little back-handed karate chop. I was completely stunned. Too shocked to feel it, even. And we both stood there, quietly. And then he started to cry…

p. 57-58:  Maxine tries to defend her reasons for sheltering the children in isolation away from the world.


It is. I ran track in high school. Used to love to jog… Even after Sarah was born. Marathons. Down to Battery Park. The Hudson River. It should be throbbing, you know, neon pink, with all the sludge they dump in there. But it’s sparkling and beautiful sometimes, like a postcard… [Lines cut] That’s why it’s lucky she’s here. Exposed to great art, you know. Music. Poetry. Not to all the violence, pornography, the sewer of pop culture we all take for granted these days. Unlike the rest of us, she had a chance to develop a healthy mind.




Representative Scenes:  

p. 24-25:  Jim gets Sarah to let him read one of her poems.  (Part of a longer scene that can be divided in different ways from p.23-29.) Starts with


Tell me something at least, so I can say I–

and ends with


I know, isn’t it? I felt so bad for the frog though. Don’t you think? Down there, all alone, with those things? This foreign species? But I don’t know, maybe he was happy. Maybe they were friends. Maybe he felt taken care of… (beat) So, I wrote a poem about it.

p. 33-34:  Jim and Davey have a “guy talk”. (Part of a much longer scene which can be divided in different ways from p. 31-35.)  Starts with


Does it feel the way it looks?

and ends with



p.49-51:  Jim and Sarah talk and clean up the blood from Davey’s severe allergic reaction brought on by Sidney deliberately sneaking chemicals into the house. (Part of a longer scene which can be divided in different ways from p.49-56.) Starts with


You okay?

and ends with


                It’s not your fault. You just. Can’t.


Select Bibliography of Reviews and Criticism:  (Note:  arti­cle title links are to the online ver­sions, mostly UW-only restricted unless des­ig­nated as open access.)

Johnson, Ryan E. (20 November, 2009). Sick: Capital t brings dohrn’s world to life with brilliant performances. [open access]

MacDonald, Sandy. (29 August, 2009). Charm of ‘Sick’ lies in the dysfunction. [open access] Boston Globe.

Rendell, Bob. Sick: American paranoia returns to new jersey repertory. [open access] Talkin’ Broadway.

Siegel, Naomi.  (22 February, 2009). Illness, illusion and dark comedy in long branch. [open access] New York Times.