Review: Issues of medical privacy and consent mix in engaging ‘Informed Consent’ at the Lantern Theater

Lindsay Smiling, Kittson O’Neill, and Samantha Bowling in Lantern Theater Company’s production of “Informed Consent” by Deborah Zoe Laufer, onstage now through Feb. 12, 2017. Photo by Mark Garvin.

By Margaret Darby

In 1989, a genetic anthropologist went too far in exploiting the parameters of her medical research.  She had been part of a team called in to find out why an extremely isolated American Indian tribe living in a remote part of the Grand Canyon had such a high incidence of Diabetes II.  She and her team took blood samples on the premise of helping them fight the diabetes, but ended up exploiting the data and the tribe’s privacy.

Deborah Zoe Laufer has described, staged, and sketched potential tensions this situation poses for both the scientists and their subjects in a brilliant, 95-minute one-act play now running at Lantern Theater.  Although she took as much creative license as she needed to round out each character, she used the actual court case as the inspiration for her play.

Laufer used five actors, of whom two played the same character throughout: Jillian, the literal-minded genetic anthropologist and her husband, Graham, the man of love, hope, and happy endings.  Kittson O’Neill played Jillian with just the right mix of ‘full-speed-ahead-and-damn-the-consequences’ and a sporadic desire to be warm and loving to her husband and daughter. Lindsay Smiling was superb in his advocacy for letting life unfold while not missing any of the good parts.

A third actor, Samantha Bowling, played two contrasting roles: Jillian and Graham’s four-year-old daughter and Havasupai tribe activist Arella.  Justin Jain played a levelheaded anthropologist and a fussy parent and completed other bit roles together with Maria Konstantinidis.  These three actors had to change roles on a dime – sometimes with props and sometimes without, but there was no difficulty knowing which roles each one was playing.  Kathryn MacMillan deserves kudos for these clear characterizations and directing her actors to look straight at the audience with such intensity that even the most weary of us sat up straight and bright-eyed.

Deborah Zoe Laufer is brilliant in her ability to create a construct of a double race against time to deal with the compelling issues for both the scientist’s family and the Havasupai tribe while encapsulating these extremely complex matters into a one-act play. I feel certain that this play will send audience members out to research and debate the issues of medical privacy and consent.

“Informed Consent” is on stage at the Lantern Theater, 923 Ludlow Street, Philadelphia Pa 19107 through Feb. 12. Tickets cost $33-$39 from Jan. 19 to Feb. 5.  After Feb. 5: $37 – $42. For tickets or information call  215-829-0395.