“INFORMED CONSENT” DAY ONE – FEB. 18, 2014
LAYER CAKE by Paul Root
As it did when I served as a cohort in the Fall productions of ‘All Your Questions Answered’ and ’39 Steps’, the word ‘layers’ came to mind on this first day of rehearsal of ‘Informed Consent,’ a brilliant and powerful play by Deborah Zoe Laufer. For the second time in half a year, I’ve been fortunate to be in the room and hear a play read that was having a world premiere at Geva – with the extraordinary writers at the table during the read-throughs (Ms. Laufer here and Greg Kotis for ‘All Your Questions Answered’). As a writer myself, I honor the work they do and understand that the first layer is applied by them, putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboards, thoughts to words. ‘Informed Consent’ is magnificently layered – it hits upon themes that are timeless and poses questions that are brand new – questions that are exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Forget that old saying ‘there’s nothing new under the sun.’ The sequencing of the human genome is bringing up plenty of things that are new under the sun.
The language of the play itself is layered – lines layered one on top of another early on that create both a sense of connection and confusion that are threads throughout the play. The theme and word ‘inform’ are both layered throughout – people sharing information, withholding information, giving too much information or not enough, giving and receiving misinformation, not knowing what to do with information they possess – or in some cases whether or not they want to access information that is available but at a cost they may not want to pay. Information coming through science, mythology, folklore, fairy tales, family tradition, and sacred ritual. These layers all exist in the excellently crafted play.
But there were other layers in the room on Tuesday as well – Director Sean Daniels asked everyone in the large group to share a bit about their family background and heritage, and as we went through, we heard a mix of amusing, interesting, and moving snippets about people’s lives and how they got to be where they are and who carried them and what they carried (with a nod to the writer Tim O’Brien). There were people here connected to the Alzheimer’s Association and this brought a layer of reality into the world of make believe – but for me it really just reinforced the power of theatre and how it can, when well done, give focus, voice, and connection to those of us who may have lost these – or had them taken from us.
Other layers include the professional theatre workers who have to look at the play with specific perspectives to make this script on paper stand up on a stage and function properly. And of course in theatre there is that vital layer known as the actors who must take those words on paper and those stage directions and those props and infuse them with just the right amount of emotion and action and projection and look good – or at least stylishly-disheveled – all the while doing it. The five- person cast, from this first read-through whose only goal according to Sean was to get to the end, made it clear that they will be more than up to the task. They brought life and passion to the script right out of the gate, while sitting in chairs, reading from the script. I can’t wait to see what they do with it once they really absorb it and bring their full powers to it, and of course do the things that the wizard Sean will have them do to it.
After reading the play myself and then hearing the actors read it today, it became more and more evident that the themes in ‘Informed Consent’ bring right to the surface the issues that are rapidly coming to a head in our nation and world: how can we correctly use the opportunities offered by science and modern medicine while respecting traditions and beliefs that vary widely on how to use them – or even if we should use them at all…As Sean mentioned from what they heard while workshopping the play in different parts of the world, these are issues that provoke strong, strong reactions, that cut across traditional demographic and political divisions, that even divide family members.
I’m not certain at all about how these tremendously powerful dilemmas will play out in the coming years…But I am quite certain that in the coming weeks Geva is about to deliver a powerhouse of a play to Rochester.