INHALE THE MYSTERY OF "THE ETHER DOME"

BONNNIE GOLDBERG

If you have a dental appointment or surgery scheduled in the near future, you may want to postpone seeing "The Ether Dome" by Elizabeth Egloff at the Hartford Stage until Sunday, October 5. A bit squeamish and uncomfortable around medical procedures, if you close your eyes when the phlebotomist draws vials of your blood, you may want to prepare yourself for this dose of medical reality.

Now that you have been forewarned, the brave of heart and intrepid souls can attend and partake of a scientific mystery worthy of a Sherlock Holmes. Hartford, Connecticut gets full credit and kudos for a major breakthrough in the world of dentistry and anesthesia. Dr, Horace Wells (Michael Bakkensen) and his student William Morton (Tom Patterson) began the journey to find a substance to reduce and alleviate pain and suffering in 1846.

Through trial and error, an accident and experimentation, the pair first used laughing gas or nitrous oxide, to put patients to sleep temporarily while their diseased teeth were extracted. The first official demonstration took pace on October 16, 1846 in Massachusetts General Hospital's surgical amphitheater, now known as the Ether Dome, when Morton used the anesthetic ether for surgery on a patient's tumor.

Previously for dental extractions, a patient's ankles were tied together and they were force feed everything from vinegar and brandy, milk and turpentine. Some committed suicide rather than go through the excruciating pain. The accidental discovery of the incredible numbing properties of first laughing gas and later ether revolutionized medical and dental procedures.

With egos and expectations vying for credit, physicians like Dr. Bigelow (Greg Balla), Dr. Gould (Ken Cheeseman), Dr. Warren (Richmond Hoxie), Dr Hayward (Bill Kux) Dr Colton (Lee Sellars) and Dr. Jackson (William Youmans) of Harvard fame all tried to insinuate themselves into the fray. The calming influence of Lizzie Morton (Liba Vaynberg) and Elizabeth Wells (Amelia Pedlow) had little influence on the growing anger and envy and animosity between their husbands over who deserved the praise for the discovery. This historical saga plays out in dramatic form under the direction of Michael Wilson, who had the initial idea for the play back in 2005. The visual projections of James Youmans's set design enhance the production.

For tickets ($25-85), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. or 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Before you take a whiff of any gaseous compound, get caught up in the tale of betrayal, envy, greed and egotists that is the east coast premiere of "The Ether Dome."


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