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In a vaguely familiar time and place, children gathered inside the grey walls of a hospital are given diagnoses they don’t understand and told to work towards correcting their ills, or face the consequences. Kinderkrankenhaus explores neurodiversity, the pathologizing of difference, and the complexity of labels in a world where the unspeaking are seen as unthinking. Can the children learn to live in this place where concepts like love are indefinable but they are still expected to know when something does not conform to its boundaries?


“For a relatively short play, this one holds an exceptional degree of complexity and vitality. In many regards, Kinderkrankenhaus has the makings of a contemporary classic. The duo of Cinders and Gnome is as memorable and sharply drawn as the most famous literary duos, and the dialogue smolders…. in the play, Dr. Schmetterling, questioning Gnome’s mental capacity, suggests that to be ’normal’ is to speak the ‘right words in the right order at the right time.’ In this remarkably inventive work, Bender dares to invert this formula, and the results are as brilliant as they are heartbreaking.”

—Matthew Tomkinson, in Full Stop

“As experimental theater, Kinderkrankenhaus’s two brief acts go deeper emotionally than Beckett and his Absurdist predecessors ever did. The first-time dramatist’s characters are allegorical types, yet we care about them with an urgency that never seemed appropriate for Vladimir and Estragon. Bender sharpens ambiguity against a system that uses labels to monetize the demographics it favors, and discard the ones it does not.”

—William Lessard, in Diagram

“Bender’s joy in wordplay is palpable, sparkling lights in the distance that draw us through the play, that promise a kind of mobius strip escape in which our tormentor will become our savior. The experience of that hope, through language, is the play’s central tension and central achievement.”

—Robert Fromberg, in The Babel Tower Notice Board

Kinderkrankenhaus sets itself up in conversation with the historical and innovative form of closet dramas. Originally created by people who were barred from participating in theatre because they didn’t fit its status quo, closet dramas don’t necessarily have to be performed in any traditional sense but function and read as pieces of literature. By engaging with this concept, Bender demonstrates how difference can flourish outside of the systems of the status quo…. The theory Bender proposes is that away from social labels, we can find the freedom to create our own language, to define ourselves.”

—Jess Cole, in Litro

“Perfect for: Experimental weirdos who wonder how a maximal performance of the piece would handle stage directions that include ‘fire eating through the whole building’…. As purgatorial as Waiting for Godot, but with an ending laden with burn-it-all-down revolutionary impulse.”

Folly X.O.

“Children’s literature, television, entertainment (in general) used to be weird…. Someone who obviously did embrace the weirdness … is Jesi Bender, whose marvelous play, Kinderkrankenhaus, is rather like an episode of The Letter People if Edward Gorey were asked to direct a script written by Jacques Derrida. Gorey and Bender would likely get along wonderfully, since Gorey claimed he didn’t write children’s books and Bender’s work, though it focuses on many kids, isn’t exactly for children either….

“Can we ever truly be free of language, free in a way that would actually let us know ourselves? I’m not so sure we can. But, like Bender, I do think we can question language, we can twist it around, toss it back and forth, laugh at it, play with it (oboy can we play! yes we can play!), we can play with it as we might if we were children hanging out with our friends using our imaginations to color the gray world.”

—Andrew Farkas, in Heavy Feather

Kinderkrankenhaus is a play of agency. Of how agency is given and un-given. The agency of children. The agency of a word. This or it? Are they the same thing? In Kinderkrankenhaus, Jesi Bender provides a new manual for the words, ahem, worlds, that are allowed, and how to allow them anyway. ‘Isn’t everything made visible through me?’ Bender asks, answers.”

—Dalton Day, author of Exit, Pursued

“With this bold new piece of hybrid playwriting, Jesi Bender deftly choreographs the traumas of abandonment (familial & societal) alongside the treasures of youth. These lines will pull you in, but like Kinderkrankenhaus’s stage, Bender’s words are edged with sparks. Let them warn and warm you alike.”

—Tyler Crumrine, editor of Plays Inverse Press