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BWW Reviews: INFORMED CONSENT, A Compelling Take on Science Vs. Religion

"Race is a fiction. It's a myth," explains the excitable genetic anthropologist at the center of Deborah Zoe Laufer's compelling morality drama, Informed Consent. "All of the things we see as race are about migratory patterns!"

DeLanna Studi and Tina Benko (Photo: James Leynse)

According to Jillian, who spends her life studying and deciphering the genetic codes that make humans what they are, we are all cousins with origins traced to one African woman from a hundred and fifty thousand years ago. What makes us different is caused by only the scantest differences in DNA and she is convinced that once we are able to completely decipher a person's genetic code we can change fatal mutations and achieve immortality.

If Jillian seems to have little patience for those who don't instantly grasp her concepts and agree to allow her to carry on her work unfettered by the rights and needs of others, she at least has an honest excuse for it. As the daughter of a woman who died in her 30s from Alzheimer's, she's aware that she's inherited the mutation and is already noticing the memory lapses that come with early onset. Not only is she racing the clock for herself, but for her four year old daughter, who she believes has likely inherited it herself.

The always exceptional Tina Benko adds another memorable performance to her New York credits. As Jillian, she is a determined ball of energy that puts up protective emotional walls. Because of her inevitable fate, she planned to never marry or have children, but nevertheless succumbed to the sweet charms of children's bookwriter, Graham (Pun Bandhu).

The play's main conflict was inspired by an actual court case involving Arizona State University and the Havasupai tribe, situated at the base of the Grand Canyon. Jillian's colleague, Ken (Jesse J. Perez), who has spent years developing a trusting relationship with the Havasupai, calls on her to perform blood tests in order to eradicate the cause of diabetes, which has been diminishing their population for generations.

Pun Bandhu and Tina Benko
(Photo: James Leynse)

But removing blood from the body goes against the tribe's religious beliefs and the awkwardly insensitive Jillian ("You don't actually believe that.") must convince the culturally devoted Arella (excellent DeLanna Studi) to speak on her behalf and persuade the elders to allow the testing to be done.

With vaguely worded consent forms, Jillian also uses the blood samples to trace the Havasupai's origins to Africa, a direct conflict with their traditional beliefs. When she starts selling magazine articles and giving lectures about her findings, the tribe threatens legal action.

While the Havasupais are depicted as being clearly in the right, Jillian is certainly not seen as a villain. "Knowledge is power," is her belief; a source of conflict between her and Graham because she wants to test their daughter (Studi, with a cutesy voice) for Alzheimer's while he believes that knowledge of a positive outcome would be an unfair burden.

Under Liesl Tommy's direction, the story is told with light humor and without dense scientific terminology that might alienate the less-scientific among us. A solidly-written play that is sure to provoke discussion.

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From This Author Michael Dale