December 19, 2014
The heart is not a lonely hunter
If petty affairs such as who gets which locker and who doesn’t in clearly stratified institutions — such as schools, gyms, clinics, army barracks, to name but a few — sometimes require the intervention of rank officers or hyerarchical authorities, it stands to reason that a matter of life and death such as deciding who gets a vital organ transplant and who doesn’t should be carefully planned and discussed.
Organ transplant and the decision-making process about donor organs and which patients on the waiting list move up and down the priority and eligibility list are at the core of Mark Saint Germain’s play The God Committee, adapted and staged here by playwright-director Daniel Veronese as El comité de Dios.
Saint Germain, a highly versatile playwright known for soul-searching works like Freud’s Last Session and enthralling musicals like Stand By Your Man, has developed a compelling play like The God Committee not only to prove his mettle for ethical and moral dilemmas tackled in an uncontrived manner, but also to make his case for an issue that deserves further scrutiny and conscience awareness programmes.
The God Commitee’s paratext is the hand programme itself, which exposes the cold fact that every year, in the US alone, more than 70,000 cardiac patients (the figure is 84,000, according to the latest surveys) are placed on a waiting list for an organ, but there are only 10,000 potential donors during the same period.
Once the cold facts are coldly and matter of fact laid out, there’s no need to ponder why The God Committee’s set is blinding, bathed in white light from every angle.
There’s no need, either, to consider why there’s a huge oval table waiting for their occupants — a team of heart transplant surgeons, a psychiatrist, an assistant and a priest — to sit through another round of talks to discuss which patients ought to move up or down a transplant waiting list.
The scene is eerie and it raises questions seldom asked in everyday life: who gets to live, and why; and who doesn’t, and the arguments for and against it.
If this were a dystopian sci-fi story (a la Philip K. Dick) about a society in which everything is coldly monitored and manipulated by androids or by humans with android-like features, it would be equally disturbing.
The God Committee’s focal point being that decisions are made by humans who do not act robotically and, quite the opposite, must forcibly go through a painstaking process involving health reasons, emotional and personal issues, it becomes more and more transparent that the whole medical team are also on a waiting list of their own. Worse still, it’s them who, like demi Gods, must often solve life and death problems after lengthy arguments or, as is often the case, at the snap of a finger.
Under ideal conditions, non-initiates are explained, an organ fit for transplant must not be without blood circulation for more than four hours — hence the need for an expedite decision on who the recipient will be, and for which reasons, which consists in a lengthy catalogue of factors including age, blood type, size, health condition, and even geographical location.
In Veronese’s accurate, intelligent version, the God Committee in question is seen, in gradual stages, from multiple angles — the professional persona, the real self with real-life problems, and the reasons that move each member of the Committee to issue their verdict.
As the play starts, the slates on a white board are empty. As the Committee members rest the case for each patient on a waiting list, the slates are filled with names, just names and not palpable physical people whose monickers are easily moved up and down, mercilessly crossed out or wiped out for causes intellectually hard to discern and even more difficult to argue about.
The architectural structure of The God Committee mostly lies on stock characters, but Saint Germain has a unique gift for complexity posing as simplicity.
Although his characters are fully fleshed out, they at first look as though they have been roughly sketched for explanatory reasons.
In a choral piece like The God Committee, characters are often played against a personal background and under a moral light, but here Saint Germain wisely pinpoints a few details, blurs others and completely obliterates unnecessary ornament.
Veronese’s direction fits Saint Germain’s play with shuttering exactness, swiftly shifting the action from one focal point to the next, from the tribulations of one character to the troubles and motivations of another, all with Veronese’s capacity to construe meaning with apparent ease and professional attitude.
Veronese elicits uniformly good performances from every actor, but Gustavo Garzón (heart surgeon Franco Klee) and Alejandra Fletchner (Psychiatry Head Ana Ross) must be singled out for their malleability and their wide acting range, which allow them to run the whole gamut from circumspection and serenity to the peaks of anger and despair experienced by two medical professionals.
Unknown to them, they are one of God’s multiple manifestations on Earth, so great is their power to break the balance of life and death, and so big their need to find an answer to troubling human questions.
What Saint Germain’s play explicitly and metaphorically illustrates is humankind’s weakness when it comes to making a choice, and the wisest possible choice at that. What Veronese’s production does is precisely what the author wants, that is, underlining, one way or another, that it could be any of us there on the waiting list.
WHERE & WHEN
El comité de Dios / The God Committee. By Mark Saint Germain. Translated by: Martín Morgenfeld. Adapted and directed by: Daniel Veronese. Set design: Alberto Negrín. Lighting: Marcelo Cuervo. Costumes: Valeria Cook. With: Gustavo Garzón, Alejandra Flechner, Roberto Castro, Gonzalo Urtizberea, Héctor Díaz, Julieta Vallina, Ana Garibaldi. At TeatroPicadero, Pasaje Discépolo 1857. Tel: 5199-5793. On the Web: www.facebook.com/ teatropicadero. Wednesday to Sunday at 8.30pm. Tickets $150