By Bob Evans
An ancient, Native-American tribe faces extinction unless scientific research redirects their future while, at the same time, the researcher knows that her DNA points to early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease; hence, the clock ticks toward their fates.
“Informed Consent,” which opened Saturday, March 10 at Kansas City’s Unicorn Theatre pits science against faith and family history when a social anthropologist clashes with tribal customs and beliefs. Jillian, the research specialist knows her DNA structure, knows that her own mother died at 34 with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, and her own DNA signals that she, too, will succumb to the disease. As such, she races the clock in hopes of unlocking a key to cure the disease before her own daughter develops Alzheimer’s. The key lies in the DNA. Jillian’s daughter may or may not carry the gene.
As for a Native-American tribe living for centuries in the Grand Canyon valley, Diabetes runs rampant. The closed tribe, suffers the ravages of Diabetes, die younger each generation, suffers amputations, and watch powerlessly as their numbers dwindle while they cling to their Native-American pride and beliefs. Like Jillian, their hopes lie in a cure to save their tribe, yet their faith disapproves of the scientific methods that may save them.
“A brilliant and ambitious genetic anthropologist, Jillian is driven to find a cure for early-onset Alzheimer’s to save herself and possibly her young daughter from the disease,” according to The Unicorn. “When the opportunity arises to research the genes of an isolated Native American tribe who could hold the key, Jillian pushes ethical boundaries in the name of scientific progress. Inspired by the real life conflict between the Havasupai Tribe and an Arizona university, ‘Informed Consent,’ by Deborah Zoe Laufer, takes a fresh look at the age old debate of science versus culture & faith, and whether our DNA should write our life stories.”
For this production, Unicorn’s Producing Artistic Director, Cynthia Levin handed direction to the very capable hands of Darren Sextro, known throughout the city for his direction of major works. “Informed Consent” adds another successful play to his repertoire.
The play showcases Manon Halliburton as the central character, Jillian and brings a strong supporting cast to help deliver this strong dramatic dilemma. Enjoli Gavin portrays Natalie/Arella in her Unicorn debut. As Natalie, she is Jillian’s child; as Arella, she is the link to Jillian and the Native-American tribe. The dual role puts her on both sides of the central problem–science or family.
The other cast members all give strong performances that enhance and advance the story. L. Roi Hawkins plays Graham, Jillian’s devoted husband who wants his daughter to grow up, being herself and not worry about the “what if” question of Alzheimer’s. While supporting his wife and understanding her drive, he wants normalcy for his daughter.
Graham drives home the burning question: Are we better to know our future and hope to avoid our fate, or should we just live our life and do the best we can? As the play progresses, the audience’s mind can, and probably will change several times. Both sides of the issue remain relevant. Sextro and the cast make believable points on each position.
Playing several parts in the play are Teisha M. Bankstrom as Dean Hagen, Jillian’s mother, and Sheila. Justin Barron plays Ken, a lawyer, a little girl, and Joan. Both actors have graced The Unicorn stage before and said they are pleased with the opportunity to perform in “Informed Consent.”
“Informed Consent” runs 90 minutes with no intermission. The powerful play grabs the audience from the first scene as the DNA projections set the tone for the seamless production. Players come and go into all corners and through all aisles, keeping the audience feeling like they are within the play. The production feels rich and full-bodied from start to finish. The story and dialogue never falter. The changes between scenes flow smoothly and the audience can easily understand the changes. Character changes work as seamless as well. This first-class production is one of the best for the Unicorn. It challenges the audience to think, re-think, and refine their ideas on scientific research as well as long-standing history and belief.
The production team is: Tanya Brown, stage manager; Kelli Harrrod, scenic design; Mary Traylor, consume designer; Shane Rowse, lighting designer; David Kiehl, sound designer; Eric Palmquist properties designer; Emily Swenson, projection designer; Ian R. Crawford, dramaturg; Jon Fulton Adams, assistant costume designer; Tim Sells, assistant projection designer; Chloe Robins production assistant; Courtney Dozier, sound board operator.
“Informed Consent” continues through April 1 on the Jerome Stage. Tickets may be purchased by phone at 816.531.7529, in person at the Unicorn box office, or via The Unicorn website. www.unicorntheatre.org Inquire about special discounts for groups, seniors, and students.
Tags: Unicorn Theatre, “Informed Consent”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment