A heart is on its way to a New York hospital. An ethics committee at that hospital has 90 minutes to decide among three patients as to which one gets the potentially life-saving organ.
It's Mark St. Germain's The God Committee in an A.D. Players production at The George that in real time explores the oh-so-tough question of who gets the donor heart. Based, of course, on real-life scenarios, the team includes a transplant coordinator, psychiatrist, social worker, a minister and doctors.
Director Alice M. Gatling (Stages Repertory Theatre: Swimming While Drowning, We Are Proud to Present ...) who is directing at A.D. Players for the first time (although she's acted there in Germain's Best of Enemies most recently) says this play covers a process — selecting an organ recipient — that most people don't know much about at all. "When it comes to transplants and the need that exists a lot of people don't have a lot of information."
Even those who know something about the initial hospital review committees (the practice began with dialysis patients when there weren't enough machines to match the demand) might be surprised to learn that the original review boards were often composed of lay people — home makers, lawyers, and people from the area but not doctors, she says.
The God Committee reflects the changes since then, with a board composed of mainly medical professionals. As the play begins, the committee assembles for a routine Monday morning meeting in which they review the status of patients. "Who's moved to status 1A? Who has to be moved to inactive?" The meeting becomes something else when they get the news about the incoming heart, Gatling says.
The questions go beyond weighing the merits and possible outcomes of each of the three patients and enter into the funding area, Gatling says.
To get ready for the play, the crew met with a real life patient who is waiting for a kidney and pancreas, she says. The patient explained the process and who is involved in making a decision like this, she said. "The young man who came to speak to us who's in need of a kidney and a pancreas, he has two kids one is deceased and they both were born with one is born with cystic fibrosis."
Asked what was the main thing she worked on with the actors, Gatling says: "Adopting the doctors' mentality. How you can talk about something that's very sensitive but keep it to just the facts so you don't get attached to the patients. It's very easy to go toward the sentimental, but doctors, in their lives, they can't afford that," she says. "You would be completely washed out emotionally if you did that." Instead, they must go by "the facts."
This isn't the first time Gatling has worked with a play covering this kind of subject matter. A few years ago she was in Under the Skin by Philadelphia playwright Michael Hollinger about a man who needed a kidney. As part of their research, the actors went to the Gift of Life family center in Philadelphia and spent an evening cooking and preparing food for the families of people were receiving organ transplants, she says. "And I learned so much about the need then. To be able to circle back around now and put out that type of information in Houston, I just felt compelled to do it."
The God Committee is a play for everyone, she says. Because people don't know much about the process, viewing this play can be the start of a conversation on what's needed, she says. "We start making people more aware of that need that exists in the community, it's like sharing life with someone."
Performances are scheduled for May 17 through June 2 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at The George, 5420 Westheimer. For information, call 713-526-2721 or visit adplayers.org. $20-$70.