This play takes you back to the early 1960’s. To be more specific, 1963, about a year or so after a revolutionary kidney machine was pioneered by Belding Scribner, MD, and his group in Seattle, WA. In 1962, Scribner had started the world’s first outpatient dialysis facility but with only six dialysis machines at the center, the problem arose of who should be given dialysis, since demand far exceeded the capacity. Dr. Scribner decided that an anonymous committee composed of local residents from various walks of life plus two doctors who practiced outside of the kidney field would make the decision about who would receive dialysis and who wouldn’t—a matter of life and death for the patients involved.
Based on this, author Christopher Meeks, who has penned several books, presents a fictionalized account of what it might have been like to be a part of this committee that decided the life and death of patients. Director Joe Ochman and Executive Producer Lori Hartwell have come up with an absolutely riveting and heart pounding telling that succeeds on many levels. It’s no secret that this presentation by RSN (Renal Support Network) attempts to disseminate information about kidney disease and the options available to those who suffer from it. To the credit of the production staff, the message is intertwined into the plot and does not hit you over the head blatantly. And the plot is a real gem!
We meet high power attorney Gabriel Hornstein (in a bravura performance by Matthew Gottlieb) who is egotistical, self absorbed, arrogant and suddenly finds himself facing near death from kidney failure. Hornstein has a son and a wife, Margret, who is the model of what a trophy wife should be in every sense of the word (Monica Himmel).
Margret is beautiful, she’s elegant, she’s a housewife and most important of all, she’s obedient to her husband (remember - this is 1963). He has not had much time to spend with her during their marriage because he was so busy building up his practice and making money. All this so she would not have to work and be able to stay home - alone.
Now that's been make aware of the illness, Hornstein refuses to believe he will die soon and when his young internist (Matt Crabtree) happens to mention an experimental machine that may prolong a patient’s life, Hornstein is all over him. He intimidates him into placing his name for consideration, and when he learns the committee turned him down he seeks out the members and bursts into one of their sessions.
The people chosen for the committee are average folks that include a housewife, (Alice Ensor), a priest, (John Timmons), a graduate student (Rachel Kimsley), a union organizer, (R. Martin Klein) and an office worker (Dale Wade Davis). This group who makes life and death decisions over the hundreds of applicants is as dysfunctional as a family gathering at Thanksgiving. They can’t decide on a chairman, refusing to consider the women since the word is clearly Chair–MAN, and their criteria for selection is mostly non-existent. When Hornstein barges in on them, he demands to be placed on the list and his criterion is more straightforward. If they don’t accept him he’ll sue them all! Clearly intimidated, the committee agrees under the condition that he join them as a member, and he insists on bringing the young intern into the group.
Some of the best dialog and interaction in the play takes place as the committee discusses the candidates. They argue the merits of life between an accountant and a concert violinist. The accountant may have a shorter life span – but the violinist is a “Negro” and they feel that if his blood might mix with other patients’ it could be a problem. The play is rich with racial slurs, political incorrectness, sexism and every other prejudice that we consider blatantly improper today, but back in 1963 was just business as usual.
The decisions reached by the characters are often startling – sometimes shocking. The arguments presented seem self serving. The rationale is based on fears, misgivings, untruths and once in a while on heartfelt sympathies. Yet this committee decided who should live and who would die, with Hornstein making one of the most dramatic and crucial decisions of his life.
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Causes Christopher Meeks Supports
Associated Writing Programs