BWW Reviews: Compelling, Humorous INFORMED CONSENT Enlightens at Cleveland Play House

BWW Reviews: 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. Theatre. 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 www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Pictured: Jessica Wortham as Jillian, Gilbert Cruz as Four, Tina Fabrique as Five, Fajer Al-Kaisi as Graham, and Larissa FastHorse as Arella. Photo by Taylor Crichton.

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Roy Berko Roy Berko, a life-long Clevelander, holds degrees, through the doctorate from Kent State, University of Michigan and The Pennsylvania State University. Roy was an actor for many years, appearing in more than 16 plays, 8 TV commercials, and 3 films. He has directed more than 30 productions. A member of the American Critics Association, the Dance Critics Association and The Cleveland Critics Circle, he has been an entertainment reviewer for more than twenty years.

For many years he was a regular on Channel 5, ABC-Cleveland's "Morning Exchange" and "Live on 5," serving as the stations communication consultant. He has also appeared on "Good Morning America." Roy served as the Director of Public Relations for the Volunteer Office in the White House during the first Clinton Administration.

He is a professor of communication and psychology who taught at George Washington University, University of Maryland, Notre Dame College of Ohio and Towson University. Roy is the author of 31 books. Several years ago, he was selected by Cleveland Magazine as one of the most interesting people in Cleveland.


 
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