If I ever lose my hand … I won’t have to work no more,
If I ever lose my leg … I won’t have to walk no more,
If I ever lose my mouth … I won’t have to talk ….
Clearly, the persona in Cat Stevens’ song had been able to discern a bright side to debilitating injuries. Just as clearly, Claire Henderson, the central character in Brian Clark’s intense drama-laced-with-comedic-moments, does not share this attitude; if she had, there would have been no play.
Under Daniel Barth’s direction, Stageworks Theatre’s production of this play offers a riveting discussion of this important moral question of personal freedom versus professional responsibility while inviting us into the hearts and minds of the characters. (To the credit of this cast, although nothing is ever overtly “played for laughs,” they kept us laughing a good share of the time.)
The story: Five months prior to the opening scene, Claire had been in an auto accident, narrowly escaping death. Among other injuries, she had suffered a severed spinal cord. Although she has recovered from every other injury (and her condition has been stabilized), she remains paralyzed from the neck down, and she sees no bright side to this condition.
Claire had made her living as a sculptor, using her hands to realize her artistic visions, and, as she says, “[her] imagination was [her] most precious asset; now it is [her] enemy.” Having been told that she will never regain use of her arms and legs, Claire is not content with the prospect of living the rest of her life as a talking head attached to a body that needs to be maintained by third parties; she finds the prospects of continued enemas, catheters, and sponge-baths to be especially distasteful. She would like to be discharged from the hospital so that she can go home and die. The hospital staff refuses to grant her wish. Thus, the question: Whose life is it anyway? As the stakes are raised, a legal battle ensues.
As Claire, Jenny Marconyak captures the sense of helplessness and the resultant anger that such a victim would feel. Claire uses her keen wit and sense of humor to come to terms with her situation, battling the hospital powers-that-be with her sharp intellect and invoking biting sarcasm when all else fails. Marconyak keeps Claire’s pain and anger evident — sometimes buried deeply, sometimes just barely beneath the surface. When the character sheds tears, it comes as no surprise; however, it is when she just barely manages to hold them back that Marconyak makes us feel her hurt most intensely.
In the first act, we meet six members of the hospital staff. Claire’s interaction with John the Orderly is her most comfortable and natural. He is “real” with her, and she can be “real” with him. Kris O’Neil is a crowd-pleaser in this role, being “real” with us as he flirts shamelessly with both Claire and a certain student nurse.
As this student nurse, Rebecca Nelson plays an innocent and eager Mary Jo Sadler (aka “Peanut”). Besides John, she is the character with whom Claire feels most comfortable. Mary Jo has not yet learned to “necessity” of hiding behind “professionalism” to protect herself from the pain she might incur while caring for patients. Nelson imbues the character with a loveable charm that plays across the footlights as strongly as it plays to Claire.
Nurse Anderson (Alison Takacs) is an experienced, veteran medical professional. She keeps everything “official” and “professional.” So thorough is she that, in addition to holding Claire at arms-length, she addresses Mary Jo as “Nurse.” Claire finds Anderson’s demeanor bothersome to the point of being degrading. As tough and calloused as Anderson might be, Takacs shows the chinks in her armor. (Watch for her reaction when she hears a reference to what material her heart might be made of.)
Shane Klosowski plays a sensitive, understanding Dr. David Scott who feels for Claire as he cares for her. Watch for Klosowski’s portrayal of Scott’s discomfort and embarrassment at various key points.
The head of the hospital, Dr. Michael Emerson (Gary Pezzulio), could be seen as Claire’s chief antagonist. He is the most adamantly opposed to Claire’s “let me die” proposal, but his intentions are honorable and good. Pezzulio plays this character with a smug enough exterior to provoke Claire’s comment that doctors have “a very high opinion of their own opinion.” Indeed, he states that a patient “is not qualified to challenge a doctor’s opinion.” Yet there is a softer underside to Emerson that Pezzulio keeps hidden until a key moment.
Rita Hewell does a fine job of giving us Mrs. Louise Boyle, a counselor who is irritatingly chipper when she drops in to talk about the future and to try to cheer Claire up.
The second act introduces the legal team. Carla Reck’s Margaret Hill, Esq. is appropriately “on her side” as she works with Claire. And Joel McLaughlin gives us a Peter Kershaw, Esq. who is clear-sighted enough to formulate the best possible strategy for representing Claire’s case.
Andrea Eden, Esq. is the hospital’s legal professional, and Dena Konkel shows the proper level of confidence as she puts on her case.
Anthony Spivey couches just the right amount of wavering and ambivalence in the character of Dr. Paul Jacobs as he provides his testimony. And Tom Garlock’s Dr. Robert Barr is passionate about his position in the case.
Judge Wyler (Marge Mueller) keeps the legal proceedings on an even keel, and Gina Anderson’s (un-named) Court Stenographer stays focused while typing every word spoken in the proceedings.
We were impressed by the set (designed by director Dan Barth). Three distinct acting areas are defined — a realistic hospital room in which Claire lies in her realistic hospital bed, a nurses’ station, and Dr. Emerson’s office. Lights cross-fade expertly as scenes change. And there is the occasional blackout-with-music to signify passage of time during a scene change. Medical equipment and other properties are true-to-life — thanks to Barth and Laura Baker. Side note: the program credits a few nurses and other medical entities as consultants.
From The Department of Picky-Picky:
- When John the Orderly sweeps, he does not use a dustpan.
- Monitors and other medical equipment were especially impressive because they were “live.”
- Jenny Marconyak made her portrayal of a paralyzed patient was thorough to the point that even her hands never moved at all.
- As the Court Stenographer types, her keystrokes match the words spoken in the proceedings.
Brian Clark’s script is first rate, and so is Stageworks’ production of it. It is a pity that it only runs one weekend.
SECOND OPINION: June 1st Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Melanie Simmons: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/06/stageworks-theatre-of-holly-springs-guest-director-dan-barth-doesnt-pull-any-punches-in-whose-life-is-it-anyway/.
Stageworks Theatre presents WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY? at 3 and 7:30 p.m. June 2 at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, 300 W Ballentine St., Holly Springs, North Carolina 27540.
TICKETS: $12.98 ($11.13 students and seniors), plus convenience or handling fees.
BOX OFFICE: 919-567-4000 or https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/3443.
INFORMATION: 919-567-4000 or StageworksTheatreNC@gmail.com.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.facebook.com/StageworksTheatreofHollySprings/videos/1461731997312951/, https://www.facebook.com/StageworksTheatreofHollySprings/videos/1462696807216470/, and https://www.facebook.com/StageworksTheatreofHollySprings/videos/1463353283817489/.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1972 television play and 1978 West End and 1979 Broadway play): https://www.dramaticpublishing.com/whose-life-is-it-anyway (male lead) and https://www.dramaticpublishing.com/whose-life-is-it-anyway-w48000 (female lead) (Dramatic Publishing), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/whose-life-is-it-anyway-9352 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whose_Life_Is_It_Anyway%3F_(play) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Brian Clark (British playwright and screenwriter): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/brian-clark-4595 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0163727/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Clark_(writer) (Wikipedia).
Daniel Barth (Clayton, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/dan.barth.12 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.