Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Compelling, humorous "Informed Consent" enlightens at Cleveland Play House

If you were carrying a genetic factor that, in the future, doomed you with Alzheimer’s, cancer, or some other disease, even if science didn’t have a cure for the ailment, would you want to know it?   Would you be willing to allow your blood, bone marrow, or a tissue sample, to be used in scientific experiments to determine genetic possibilities?   What is an experimental scientist’s obligation to reveal what they will do with the information gained from the consent of volunteers in a medical study?  

Sound like subjects right out of tales that are popping up daily in our newspaper?   Those probes are the foundation of “Informed Consent,” now on stage at the Cleveland Play House as part of the New Ground Festival.”

Plays by Deborah Zoe Laufer, the author of “Informed Consent,” recipient of the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award and a Lilly Award, have been called, “rapturously funny,” “poignantly redemptive,” “hilarious,” “engaging,” “funny as hell,” “touching,” and “weird and illuminating.”

Her “End Days,” which is receiving a staged reading by Interplay Jewish Theatre (http://interplaycleveland.com), as does “Informed Consent,” rips its topic out of the headlines.  The playwright exposes a dysfunctional family caught, in the aftermath of 911 attack, that is  trying to survive in a world hurtling toward Armageddon.  Only Stephen Hawking or Jesus can save them.

“Informed Consent,” like “End Days,” is a black comedy which centers on Gillian, an ambitious geneticist, who anxiously takes on a project to investigate why a Native American tribe is being devastated by diabetes.  Since diabetes is not her major interest, and also she wants to use the blood samples to probe into the genetic component of Alzheimer’s, her motives are not altruistic.  Her mother and other relatives have been the victims of the mind-ravaging illness and she would like to find a cure, not only for others, but to help herself and her daughter, who may also carry the errant gene that she suspects is the culprit. What to do?

Sound like a downer?  Not with the fertile imagination of Laufer.  The audience finds themselves in a conundrum of whether to laugh or cry, often doing both.

Is truth more interesting than fiction?  “Informed Consent” is based on a real event.  It takes on conflicts between cultural patterns, the roles of science and religion, the obligation of researchers to do their work with the weight of  governmental and university constraints.  The tale asks, among other questions, “just how much knowledge is too much?”

The Cleveland Play House production, under the insightful direction of Sean Daniels, is excellent.  The ninety-minute play, presented without an intermission, holds the audience with excellent pacing and allows the fine writing to develop both the drama and the comedy.

Jessica Wortham is superb as the scientist.  She creates a completely believable woman caught in a conflict between her obligation to the scientific process and protocol, self and child survival, and the need to be truthful, as well as her respect for cultural beliefs.

The rest of the cast, all of whom play various roles, Fajer Al-Kaisi, Larissa FastHorse, Gilbert Cruz, and Tina Fabrique, all are excellent, balancing the fine line between humor and drama with ease.  They get the laughs by playing real people, not caricatures.  What a wonderful assemblage of professionals.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  “Informed Consent” is a play for all theater-goers.  There is intellectual interest, mystery content, and humor, all rolled into one well-written script, which gets a superb staging!  This is a must see production!

“Informed Consent” runs through May 17, 2014 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com