By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
On October 12, visitors walking about Medfield State Hospital witnessed something they had never seen in this setting: a play. Hortense Gerardo has created “The Medfield Anthology,” a collection of acts that takes visitors from building to building to learn about the residents of the former state hospital - and the impact it had on the community during its years of operation.
The moving play began with an introduction at Building 2. Viewers learned that Medfield was one of the first hospitals built as a cottage plan, where residents lived in dorm-like buildings, with bedrooms on the second and third floors and recreation and visitation spaces on the first.
The first “real scene” of the play walked viewers from the second building to a grassy field across campus. When visitors arrived, they watched as two people threw a baseball back and forth while discussing the ongoing events of their town, particularly Evacuation Day. “Wally’s mom says he’s hallucinating,” said one character.
“That’s how he talks to the dog?” said the other.
“I guess.” As the two characters discussed their friends at the state hospital, it became clear to the audience that the patients had impacted the town for the better, and had formed a connection with the town’s people.
“They may dress a little odd and move a little different, but they’re exactly like us.”
Following a dance number about the nurses of the hospital, viewers moved to building on the women’s side of the hospital, where two doctors discussed the intake of a new patient. The head superintendent of the hospital and the newly hired specialist have differing opinions when it comes to diagnosis and treatment plans. One argues that there is a possibility that the patient is of sound mind, while the other believes she is not. Treatment options varying from occupational therapy, to the use of mercury, to the use of a type of water treatment are suggested. It became clear to the audience that the superintendent had a very different view on what it meant to treat patients. This section served to provide the audience with some dark comedy and revealed some disturbing truths when it came to medical care at the institutions like Medfield State Hospital.
The final scene took the audience, along with other cast members, into the chapel. This scene took place during the annual Harvest Fest dance, where townsfolk and hospital residents alike were invited to enjoy a good old-fashioned party. The audience entered the chapel, where Ms. Sally began singing a melancholy tune. What ensued was a magical moment; other cast members began stomping and clapping, encouraging the audience to follow, and create a beat to which Ms. Sally could sing along.
“I’m coming back in May,” said one audience member to her friend at the conclusion of the play.
“The Medfield Anthology” isn’t only a play about the Medfield State Hospital. It’s a play about the people who lived there, the townspeople nearby, and how different the empty grounds of the hospital, which visitors see every day, is from the once-lively campus.