Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company

Maybe you’ve had one of those jobs that you walked away from, into another career. When you look back, you try to put it into perspective, right? I think that’s what Richard Cotovsky is doing with his one-act about a small privately owned Chicago drugstore. The daily routines, the gripes, and the strangeness of visitors blundering into this microcosm–all these elements are in place, like aerosols stacked on a shelf. It’s an ordered memory: sorted, arranged, and collecting dust.

Prescribed But Not Refillable is essentially a mood piece, without much of a plot or a point. The interest of studying characters at work is that you get to see relationships that just wouldn’t exist unless mandated by a time clock. Often this can be interesting in itself. The problem is that this novelty has been exploited so extensively by TV–Cheers, L.A. Law, Wings, you name it–that it isn’t novel anymore. Certain motifs have become common. There’s always a boss, who is only human, and some guys talking guy talk, and someone who’s either demented or retarded, and a potential guy-gal situation exploited for sexual tension. And that’s what you see here.

The central character is Jerry, the pharmacist, played somewhat nervously by Cotovsky. Jerry manages but does not own Sid’s Pharmacy, which makes him a little schizoid–sometimes boss, sometimes flunky–and generally resentful that he has to be civil to customers. Also on the drugstore payroll are the dull-witted Wally (well played by Brian Sandstrom), the innocent young palooka Teddy (played by Gregory Willis), the gum-chewing babe Robyn (Sharyl Burau), and the gambling work shirker Arthur (Stephen Welsh). An assortment of customers are played by Sandstrom, Willis, Erika Wood, Andrew Sten, and others. All of the acting, by the way, is unpretentious and ensemble, which goes a long way toward anchoring audience attention to a sandy-bottomed script.

No one gets killed or fired, though Jerry does chase off a couple of thugs. That endears him to Robyn, and there’s the suggestion that maybe they’re going to do it at his place after they close up for the night. Nothing extraordinary here, certainly nothing that would sell as a pilot.

But what this play does have going for it is that it feels like a memory, remote and ritualistic. Jerry delivers two monologues that help establish this perspective, neither of them particularly important or relevant to the drama. But the context of memory, once established, is powerfully underwritten by Patrick Kerwin’s moody yet realistic box set. When Jerry mentions that the merchandise on the shelves has to be dusted, you know it already. And somehow you also know that the characters are dusty, that what they do has already been done, that everything is fixed, that this play is shifting the older goods to the front of the shelf in the hope of moving them once and for all.

Arthur Miller did something like this with Memory of Two Mondays, a recollection of his job at an auto-parts warehouse. But Miller presented two Monday mornings months apart, which showed how his characters changed. Cotovsky doesn’t provide us with an insight like this, so his characters remain both uncaptured and unhaunting. A program note laments the extinction of the privately owned pharmacy, a sentiment that seems to have less to do with the drama than with its funding by the Illinois Arts Council. In itself, the passing of a pharmacy is a hard thing to mourn. Look back in languor.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Casey.