The Quality of Life
The Geffen Playhouse
The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson, now appearing at the Geffen Playhouse until November 11, poses many questions each of us will eventually have to answer: when a loved one has a terminal illness, at what point is it permissible to perform euthanasia? If we believe in God, can such an action ever be condoned? When is euthanasia merciful? When is it sinful?
Yet, despite the very serious, rather somber tone of each of the questions, playwright Jane Anderson has written and directed a play with humor, sensitivity and balance, which actors Scott Bakula, JoBeth Williams, Dennis Boutsikaris and Laurie Metcalf bring to life in memorable performances. Bill and Dinah (Scott Bakula and JoBeth Williams) leave Ohio to visit cousins Neil (Dennis Boutsikaris) and Jeannette (Laurie Metcalf) whose home has been destroyed from a fire in Northern California. In addition, cousin Neil is dying of terminal cancer and since "Blood is thicker than water" Dinah believes family is so important at times such as these.
That Neil and Jeanette have a dramatically different lifestyle from Bill and Dinah adds to the anxiety, frustration and audience delight in watching the antics unfold. When Neil announces he's planning to smoke marijuana to ease his pain, Bill decides he'd rather not be a witness to such errant behavior and goes off stage to sit in his car. We learn that neither Bill nor Dinah are immune from pain for they have sustained a crushing reality which is revealed as the play progresses. How they handle their intense pain is all part of the value and quality of their lives. These constant hurts and anguish constitute the heart of the play. The adventures of Neil and Jeanette's missing cat add to our further interest.
The audience is completely engrossed with each twist of Anderson's play. Further, set designer Francois-Pierre Couture has created a stunning set that captivates our interest and concern. It's not often you will see a Yurt on stage; its imprint is tremendous. Phyllis Schuringa's casting is superb for each of the four actors resonates the truth and conviction their part calls for. Ms. Anderson's clever words and astute direction keeps the action moving forward with both the stark and gentle touches so important in a play that deals with such a sensitive subject. The irony of using fire as the source of their dismay at this very time in our California history was prescient. The scene depicting the two women ululating will ring in your ears for days afterward.
There are lots of surprises, lots of truths, and many questions to mull over as you leave the auditorium for the Quality of Life will add immeasurably to your emotional intelligence. Says Jeanette in one poignant moment, "People turn stupid around tragedy!" In some cases, they can also wise up!
The Quality of Life, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at The Geffen Playhouse, Until November 18 Tuesday – Thursday @ 8:00 p.m.; Friday @ 7:30 p.m.; Saturday @ 3:30 & 8:00 p.m.; Sunday @ 2:30 & 7:30 p.m., Tickets $64 – $74