“The God Committee,” Mark St. Germain’s thought-provoking 2007 drama now in rehearsal for a March 6-April 20 run at Oil Lamp Theater, follows the heady deliberations of a Heart Transplant Selection Committee at a Catholic hospital in Manhattan.
Working under deadline pressures, the group’s seven members — doctors, nurses, a priest and the head of social services — are responsible for prioritizing potential recipients and categorizing where they stand in terms of eligibility.
The play is set in real time, and an onstage clock will draw attention to a fast-approaching deadline for one of three patients in need of a heart that’s become available.
On the surface, working with the data at hand, the decisions should be straightforward.
However, we learn, there are a lot of gray areas, says Keith Gerth, Oil Lamp’s artistic director who is helming this production.
“Initially, these high-powered individuals are involved in a matter-of-face process,” Gerth says. “Yet as the play unfolds, despite having the data at hand, each character brings personal baggage to the room in the form of egos and strong personal beliefs.”
Adding complexity is an offer of a significant contribution to the program by a major donor with a critically ill son.
Gerth says the play reveals the difficulties of the life-and-death choices the committee must make as it struggles to find the right medical, ethical, financial and moral stance.
“There really is a science-versus-sentimentality kind of debate over how we make these choices, Gerth explains.
But he notes, “Is it all just science and pure data, or do we care about that particular person? To be in the room and experience it with these people (in the play) is compelling and brings out a renewed awareness of who we are as humans on a basic level.”
The 100-minute production features Oil Lamp veterans Joe Page, Stephen Smith and June Miller joined by other local actors Kelly Farmer, Mike Maloney, Amanda Meyer and Marshall Kious.
Gerth says his cast has immersed itself in the play, frequently debating issues it raises. “They don’t dance around the issues but explore them head-on,” he says.
Page says when the matter of national healthcare reforms came up in 2008, there was talk about limiting access to medical services, so-called death panels, and decisions being made about who gets care and who doesn’t.
“The play is called ‘The God Committee’ because we are flawed human beings who are literally asked to play God,” says Page.“Few realize that on any given day there are 120,000 in this country who are in need of an organ transplant of some sort but only 12,000 available organs. So somewhere along the line a decision must be made.”