At the beginning of any stage play, there is always that brief period of adjustment for the audience to become comfortable with watching the onstage performers inhabit their roles. That period never ends in this awkward, self-conscious journey through Brian Clark's oft-produced chronicle of a quadriplegic's determination to be allowed to end her life. The entire ensemble interacts as if they were barely beyond being off book.

At the beginning of any stage play, there is always that brief period of adjustment for the audience to become comfortable with watching the onstage performers inhabit their roles. That period never ends in this awkward, self-conscious journey through Brian Clark’s oft-produced chronicle of a quadriplegic’s determination to be allowed to end her life. Charlene Tilton (“Dallas”) offers a sympathetic presence as bed-ridden sculptor Claire Harrison but never achieves a level of comfort with her lines. In fact, as directed by Steve Owsley, the entire ensemble interacts as if they were barely beyond being off book.

The difficulty in having the main onstage presence only able to move from the neck up is that the play’s thematic evolution, as well as all the complicated intellectual and emotional give-and-take, have to be shaped and finessed through verbal communication. Unless the cast members truly connect with one another on multiple levels, Clark’s vital central theme (what constitutes life and who should have the right to determine it) becomes a mundane, pedestrian exercise of deciding who wins and who loses. Unfortunately, this debut production of the Attic Theatre Ensemble’s 13th season definitely falls into the loss column.

The playwright does not offer an easy task for any ensemble. Set in the ward of a critical care medical facility, the combat over whether this patient will be allowed to determine her own fate is established early, pitting the determined Claire against her physician, the equally determined Dr. Michael Emerson (Jerry Katz). Despite Clark’s infusion of folk who either aid or oppose Claire’s decision, the resolution of the drama is never in doubt. The playwright has simply given Claire too much ammunition to be denied her resolution to not live the rest of her life as a breathing but useless cadaver.

There are two performances that do manage to instill some emotional energy to the proceedings. Charlie Duran effectively communicates the sadly romantic yearnings of young Dr. David Scott toward Claire. And Lily Mercer communicates the intelligence and wit of Claire’s attorney Margaret Hill.

Whose Life Is It Anyway?

Attic Theatre Center; 99 seats; $18 top

Production

An Attic Theatre Ensemble presentation of a play in two acts by Brian Clark. Directed by Steve Owsley. Reviewed Feb. 19; runs until March 25.

Creative

Sets, Christopher Sheets; costumes, Sharon Zimmer; lighting, James Carey. Opened Feb. 17, 2000. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

Claire Harrison - Charlene Tilton Nurse Anderson - Livia Trevino Mary Jo Sadler - Shanta Sullivan John - Jean-Michael Richaud Dr. David Scott - Charlie Duran Dr. Michael Emerson - Jerry Katz Mrs. Louise Boyle - Kathlyn Miles Margaret Hill - Lily Mercer Dr. Paul Jacobs - John Szura Peter Kershaw - TL Kolman Dr. Barr - Harlene Marshall Andrea Eden - Shelley Sinclaire Judge Wyler - RG Clayton
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