As audience members file in, return Fringe artist Donna Kay Yarborough wears an old hospital gown and greets everyone with a friendly smile. “This is going to be very casual,” she assures us. And in most ways, she’s correct. What follows is a series of stories intertwined with stories and hard-learned — and sometimes physically painful — lessons.
In Diagnose This! Tales of a Medical Actor, Yarborough tells real-life stories about her time as a professional “medical actor,” also known as a standardized patient. As a standardized patient, Yarborough acts as a living and breathing practice patient for medical students before they make the transition into the real world of shadowing doctors and dealing with real patients. It’s a job that requires empathy, an ability to think on your feet and patience. So much patience.
Diagnose This! feels, at times, like a motivational or professional speaking engagement. Yarborough has experienced each of the stories she tells first-hand, which lends a casual but sometimes less-than-polished feel to the performance. That intimacy serves the subject matter well. As she enters into discussions about the trials and tribulations of first-time gynecological exams, the open and safe atmosphere Yarborough builds places her audience at ease in a space where we can both listen and relate.
Adding some much-needed depth to the performance is Yarborough’s own story about a terrible patient-doctor interaction that almost cost Yarborough her life. It’s a story that, unfortunately, is not too surprising or uncommon, and one that ends with a strong theme: Believe Women.
Diagnose This! is a production that emphasizes the importance of fixing a broken system and doesn't shy away from the times when saying “fuck the system” feels more appropriate.