"Informed Consent" now showing at the Unicorn Theatre explores the inner dialogue that considers our place in the world. Dissecting the place that science, tradition, and culture can present boundaries that can be difficult to deal with. In playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer's drama, the debate between genetic science and cultural norms comes vividly to life. This show does not shy away from today's challenging ethical questions and yet does not force upon the audience a set answer or particular point of view.

Inspired by real events that took place between the Havasupai Tribe and an Arizona University, "Informed Consent" grapples with the challenges faced when the past and the future collide. Initially, Jillian is brought in to the program to help the tribe come to terms with the increasing health problems brought on by modern American diet that is causing alarming consequences. While her focus was to have been on the complications brought on by a diabetes epidemic, within the tribe, she soon expands the scope to include her own Alzheimer's work. Having not sought out approval through proper channels places Jillian's work in jeopardy.BWW Review: INFORMED CONSENT at UNICORN THEATRE

As the show opens a genetic anthropologist, Jillian seeks to find a cure for Alzheimer's through scientific research. Jillian's thorough understanding of DNA structure comes from years of study inspired by the death of her own mother at age 34 from early onset Alzheimer's Disease. As she seeks to find a cure (both for herself and perhaps her daughter) a new position at the University allows her access to an isolated Native American Tribe whose blood may provide further answers. Jillian pushes ethical boundaries, however, when she does not provide full disclosure to the tribe regarding how the blood samples will be handled.. While her intent is helpful, Jillian is so scientific in her thinking that she fails to understand the effect her decision impacts the tribal faith and cultural pride.BWW Review: INFORMED CONSENT at UNICORN THEATRE

Jillian's husband Graham grows concerned that her quest is becoming too much of an obsession and may be having a negative effect on their young daughter. Graham urges Jillian to see that the meaningful part of life does not depend on what our DNA dictates, but rather we write our own life stories.

Artistic Director, Cynthia Levin, has employed the talents of director Darren Sextro for this production. There are some powerful production qualities here like the DNA projections onto a let that blends abstract with tribal qualities. The lighting extends the set with geometric shadowing that enhances the three-dimensional effect. There are strong cast performances which require multiple roles from several actors. The scene and character changes are seamlessly smooth allowing the audience to keep up with the rapidly advancing storyline.BWW Review: INFORMED CONSENT at UNICORN THEATRE

This show hinges on the central character, Jillian (played my Manon Halliburton) whose palpable fear of Alzheimer's drives her from emotional to scientific at every turn. Halliburton's strong performance as the rigid scientist provides the perfect contrast the others in the cast can easily counter. L.Roi Hawkins (Graham) as the loyal husband shows the softer side of the couple as he seeks to allow their child a more worry-free home. Hawkins seems warmly devoted beyond what at times Jillian seems to deserve, yet his restrained performance makes it all the more believable.


The supporting cast includes Enjoli Gavin who plays Natalie (Jillian's child) and Arella (Jillian's tribal contact). Gavin is formidable as she crafts two vastly different characters and seems able to shift from one to the other with perfect precision. Teisha M. Bankston as Dean Hagen, Jillian's Mother, and Sheila effectively uses her time on stage to create a memorable presence. Bankston moves from Alzheimer's afflicted mother to robust College Dean with nimble acting agility. Justin Barron plays Ken, a lawyer, a little girl, and Joan and I have to hand it to him added just the right touch of levity to brighten the stage. Barron had the serious notes when needed, and the right amount of kitsch to make it fun.

"Informed Consent" runs 90 minutes with no intermission. The substance of this play provides the perfect media for an audience to consider how much of who we are is DNA and how much is learned patterns of behavior. The power in this story is that multiple perspectives can be right depending on how one looks at them. This Unicorn production get's everything right in this thoughtful story. Reflecting current events, this kind of drama calls us to consider walking in someone's shoes long enough to understand what makes them believe what they do, no matter how right we think we are.

The production team includes: Tanya Brown, stage manager; Kelli Harrod, scenic design; Mary Traylor, consume designer; Shane Rowse, lighting designer; David Kiehl, sound designer; Eric Palmquist properties designer; Emily Swenson, projection designer; Ian R. Crawford, dramaturg; Jon Fulton Adams, assistant costume designer; Tim Sells, assistant projection designer; Chloe Robins production assistant; Courtney Dozier, sound board operator.

"Informed Consent" continues through April 1 on the Jerome Stage. Tickets may be purchased by phone at (816) 531-7529, in person at the Unicorn box office, or via The Unicorn website.

Photos courtesy of Cynthia Levin and The Unicorn Theatre

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From This Author Paul Bolton

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