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Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008

Playing God

Theater Review

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Who has the right to determine who lives or who dies? Who is the "better person" to receive an organ donation? And how can one person make that life or death judgment for another?

These are just some of the questions posed, dissected and agonized over in Mark St. Germain's play The God Committee, which opened Acacia Theatre Company's new season last weekend.

When a donated heart becomes available for waiting patients at St. Patrick's Hospital, a committee composed of doctors, surgeons, nurses, social workers and a lawyer-turned-priest must convene and quickly decide which patient gets another chance at life. Is it the wealthy donor's spoiled son who tests positive for cocaine? Should it be the elderly Mexican woman who has already received one heart and recently attempted suicide? Or the middle-aged black man who is in poor health?

The God Committee revolves around questions on how to decide and how a person's life experiences influence such a decision. Director Glenna Gustin has managed to keep the 80-minute (no intermission) production moving-and the audience engaged-in a setting that requires people to sit around, talk, debate and challenge one another. Playwright St. Germain makes the debate and dialogue realistic and incisive, packing lots of information about organ donation and human frailties into a meeting that leaves no room for self-doubt.

For the most part, the eight-member cast works well together as they challenge, debate and ultimately decide. Despite some dropped lines on opening night, the actors served their roles well.

A standout includes Michael Tyburski, who portrays a paraplegic social worker with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a humanistic perspective needed for such a decision. Much credit also goes to Tyburski for expertly handling a motorized scooter around the small, multilevel set. As the psychiatrist plagued by personal tragedy, Brenda L. LaMalfa keeps the emotions right beneath the surface, the tension palpable as she grapples internally and with the committee. Dawn Kimsey Purpura's Nurse Larkin nicely balances duty with compassion.

Who among us would want to make such a decision? The God Committee shows us that, regardless of the choice, the journey lies in the choosing.

The God Committee runs through Nov. 9 in the Todd Wehr Auditorium at Concordia University.