The God Committee
Mark St. Germain offers up a provocative drama about doctors deciding who will receive a donated heart.
While the play attempts to be both entertaining and enlightening, St. Germain's overwhelming desire to enlighten the audience tends to make the entertainment feel like a contrivance. On the other hand, the inherently dramatic elements of the piece, coupled with several strong performances and some genuinely satisfying plot twists, give The God Committee enough oxygen to remain viable.
In lesser hands, the characters might become mere mouthpieces for various points of view, devoid of idiosyncratic humanity; happily, they are fleshed out here with personal details that root them in everyday reality. For the most part, director Kevin Moriarty elicits performances that are extremely bright, fluid, and organic. Many of the actors have a rapport with each other that suggests the long professional and personal relationships that are supposed to exist among these people.
The story takes place in real time, and in a realistic hospital conference room set designed by Beowulf Boritt. As it begins, we hear that a heart has been harvested and is on the way to St. Patrick's Hospital by plane (and eventually via car and subway, due to the St. Patrick's Day Parade). The so-called "God committee" must quickly determine which of four candidates will receive the organ, and we soon discover the many protocols used to determine who the winner in this life-or-death lottery will be.
To aid in our enlightenment, the playwright has invented two characters that need to ask a lot of questions. The first is a young female staff physician (Maha Chehlaoui) acting for the first time as the proxy for the senior doctor, who is traveling with the harvested heart. Idealistic and angry, she is little more than a cliché. The second, Father Dolan (Michael Mulheren) is far more intriguing. He's a priest -- and a former trial lawyer -- who is representing the hospital's Board of Directors because the critically ill, 23-year-old son of one of the hospital's biggest corporate donors is a candidate for the heart. The play's plot spins on whether or not the rich kid will jump the line to get the heart or if it will go to one of three other candidates who have been waiting for months upon months for this life-saving chance.
Meanwhile, personal subplots swirl as the committee tries to decide who shall have the heart. One of the committee members is a psychiatrist (Amy Van Nostrand) who has recently lost her teenage daughter to a drug overdose. The chairman of the committee (Larry Keith) is dying of cancer and concerned about his legacy, while the other doctor (Peter Jay Fernandez) is a hard-nosed numbers cruncher unswayed by calls for compassion. Rounding out the committee are a lonely, wheelchair-bound social worker (Ron Orbach) who tries to cheer himself and the others up with jokes, and the opinionated nurse (Brenda Thomas) who oversees the meetings. Though they are charged to make their decision based on specific statistical and medical criteria, we see their prejudices -- both noble and ignoble -- at work. They may be The God Committee, but they all have feet of clay.