Many people believe decisions about life and death are the purview of a higher power. In the real world, however, these decisions rest with a hospital board made up of pundits and doctors — demigods — who must determine which of several critically ill patients will get a donor organ when one becomes available. In Mark St. Germain's painfully fierce play, the life of one of three patients hangs in the balance and is fraught with the tensions engendered by a group of high-achieving doctors who bring vastly divergent viewpoints to the table. When hospital politics, ethics, medicine, morality, and money join and divide the board members, it boils down to a heart-rending battle of ego, will, vulnerability, and culpability among the gods of modern medical science.
Sparking the almost unbearable, emotional controversy is the pesky Father Charles Dunbar (a sparkling, pixilated John Cirigliano), a lively Irish lawyer-priest who brings wit, wisdom, and a bit of cruel whimsy to bear. Dunbar is aided by a supernova paraplegic social worker (the electric and eclectic Joshua Olson). Mark Kinsey Stephenson is moving as the ailing senior surgeon with his own major medical and, as it turns out, ethical disabilities; James Runcorn is suitably villainous as the coolly rational and unlovable Dr. Alex Gorman, at odds with most of his peers. Rocky Bonifield, in a heartbreakingly engaging performance, plays a physician who is fighting personal issues; Catie LeOrisa makes an indelible mark on the dramatic charts as the moderator, intent on keeping the board honest and away from one another's throats. Teresa Bisson holds her own with passion as the newest, youngest member of the board.
Tuned-in director Ron Orbach, scenic designer Tim Farmer, costume designer Blanca Gutierrez, lighting designer Brandon Baruch, and sound designers Fred Othmer and Leah Corn Raher make unassailable contributions to the cause. This is a passionate, committed debate among equals about the beliefs, hopes, and fears of the medical experts who must decide who lives and who dies.
Presented by the Actors Co-op at the Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30. Oct. 19-Nov. 18. (323) 462-8460. www.actorsco-op.org.