Theatrical Outfit's fleet medical drama The God Committee plays like a combination of Twelve Angry Men and the TV show "24," only with a surgical backdrop. A bland hospital boardroom becomes a venue for engrossing debate at a weekly meeting to determine how to prioritize transplant patients. In essence, a handful of hospital staffers decide who lives and who dies.
The committee members include a sleep-deprived resident, (Kinnick Sky), a kindly administrator (Tom Key), a disabled social worker (Chris Ekholm) and a defense attorney-turned-Catholic priest (Bill Murphey). Jeff Portell vividly portrays a brilliant, bastard of a cardiac surgeon who treats everything with contempt and tries to reduce the decision-making process to "science over sentiment."
When I was in college, we called these kinds of arguments "raft debates": Which person (or group or profession) would most deserve taking the sole available place in a life raft? The committee must decide who most deserves a second shot at life among such choices as a misanthropic, HIV-positive poet; a callow, party-boy heir to a wealthy family; and a beloved, elderly nurse who once attempted suicide. The inherently compelling situation becomes even more intense when a medical emergency demands a decision within minutes. Director Joe Gfaller wrings maximum suspense from the ticking clock.
The play unfolds in real time in a single boardroom, so playwright Mark St. Germain, perhaps inevitably, resorts to a few contrivances to introduce some of the doctors' personal problems, which include a grave illness and a family tragedy. The play's speed and at times dense medical jargon occasionally get the better of some of the actors. But playwright and cast alike convey the blurred moral shadings and the difficulty of separating emotions from what should be purely medical decisions.
The God Committee takes place St. Patrick's Day in Manhattan, and periodically unwelcome Irish music blares into the meeting room. The running joke provides both comic relief and another kind of tension: If hospital officials can't get their intercoms right, how reliable is their decision-making process, or even their surgery? St. Germain's play reveals that the ones who play God turn out to be no more -- or less -- human than the rest of us.
The God Committee. $16.20-$54. Through Oct. 8. Tues.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Theatrical Outfit. 84 Luckie St. 678-528-1500. www.theatricaloutfit.org.
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