The God Committee

The God Committee
By Mark St. Germain. Ensemble Theatre, Sydney. Director: Andrew Doyle. Set: Colin Mitchell. Lighting: Mark Hammer. July 15 to August 29.

This 2006 off-Broadway ‘issue play’ fits the Ensemble’s thrust stage like a glove — a heart surgeon’s rubber glove, perhaps. As St. Patrick’s Metropolitan Hospital’s weekly transplant committee meets to decide which of three recipients should receive a suddenly available donor heart, so the audience presses in on three sides round the table, weighing up the arguments, participating in the urgent life-or-death decision making. Colin Mitchell’s boardroom setting is clean and efficient, if cramped for movement beyond the central table — but then, what room isn’t cramped on the Ensemble’s highly concentrated stage?

Mark St. Germain’s short (80 minutes), no-interval play is as American as New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade which we can hear in the street outside. The characters and attitudes are straight from US hospital television dramas like ER, Chicago Hope, Grey’s Anatomy, etc, etc, though here we must stay in the committee room and take descriptions of the worthiness of rival recipients on trust. Some of the characters — particularly Father Dunbar (Noel Hodda), a saturnine priest/lawyer sent by the nervous hospital board — prevent an Australian audience from engaging with the central medical dilemma. This particular God Committee is a very American, very non-Medicare construct. The fabulously rich businessman father of one of the readied recipients is prepared to offer the board ‘a substantial financial gift’ (it turns out to be $50 million!) if, it is implied, the correct choice is made.

Under Andrew Doyle’s careful direction, the actors certainly appear convincingly Yankee. Robert Alexander is strong as Dr. Klee, the chairman, under threat of terminal cancer and with his own agenda; and Duncan Young is brilliantly surly as ace heart surgeon Dr. Gorman, rude, fixated on his own skills and reputation. Also notable are Rachael Coopes as a young and exhausted intern, Deborah Galanos as a hospital psychiatrist with significant problems of her own, Pamela Jikiemi as the efficient black nurse/coordinator urging committee members to make up their minds, and Peter Turnbull as a wheelchair-bound social worker who offers green-iced St. Patrick’s Day doughnuts and comes up with a succession of effectively comic one-liners in the American sitcom tradition.

The God Committee is short and sweet enough, but seems as remote to local life as an episode of ER. However we crash back to Sydney reality when Robert Alexander steps forward to hush the hearty applause and deliver an amusing Aussie spruik for the Actors Benevolent Fund.

Frank Hatherley

Image: L to R Duncan Young Pamela Jikiemi, Rachael Coopes, Deborah Galanos, Robert Alexander and Peter Turnbull. Photographer: Steve Lunam.

To keep up with the latest news and reviews at Stage Whispers, click here to like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.