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Cleveland Play House’s production of ‘Informed Consent” is one to ponder

This is a play for those who truly care about social issues of the day.
This is a play for those who truly care about social issues of the day.
Cleveland Play House

Informed Consent


The history of conflict between the indigenous people of this land and those that immigrated here could fill volumes about all of the atrocities on both sides. The “whites” as they are most popularly called have used every means possible to take that which the Native Americans had been caretakers of for thousands of years. Whites have used a variety of land grabbing schemes from treaties to outright theft and have managed to sweep an entire people from off their land and into property so bad that even white men have no need of it (unless oil or uranium is found). On the other side of the coin, the “Indians” have retaliated in kind with massacres of innocents.

Add to this mix, biological warfare by the whites using smallpox infected blankets (combined with a host of old world diseases never before seen in this land), all out warfare, the breaking up and “Americization” of tribal families, reducing the tribes to a welfare state and the use of sacred symbols and ugly caricatures to promote sport teams that “honor the noble savage” and it is no wonder that there is a huge amount of mistrust on both sides of the issue. As a friend of mine once said, “If you ever want to scare the heck out of an Indian, just come up to him with your arm outstretched and say, “Howdy!...I’m from the U.S. Government and I’m here to help!”

That is why it was good to see the crowd exiting the Second Stage Theatre at PlayhouseSquare following a performance of “Informed Consent” seeming more subdued than usual. The light banter that is usually present following a theatrical performance was missing. In its place was the low murmur of thoughtful conversation. The reason for this is the fact that there is a lot of sadness dealt with in “Informed Consent”.

There is the sadness for the overzealous genetic anthropologist, Jillian who has lost the opportunity to pursue a cure for herself , her daughter and others who are destined to suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s disease (the same disease that took Jillian’s mother at an early age). There is sadness for her husband, Graham, who is torn between the love for his wife and daughter and the verifiable knowledge of their chance for getting early onset Alzheimer’s (yet one he is unwilling to have them genetically tested for it). There is sadness for Ken, a member of the university who had spent 40 years of his life becoming integrated into the Havasupai Tribe only to be shunned because he was the one responsible for bringing Jillian into their midst and lastly you feel sadness for the Havasupai Tribe because their faith and belief system as well as trust of the white race is once again damaged.

“Informed Consent” is the true story about the legal action that was taken against the University of Arizona by the Havasupai Tribe when blood samples had been taken solely for the purpose of investigating as to why there was such a high rate of Type 2 Diabetes within the tribe. Instead (and after no clear answers were found concerning the Diabetes question) the blood was sent around the country for genetic research on Alzheimer’s, Schizophrenia, in-breeding, mobility and place of tribal origin. The lid is blown off the entire case study when a tribal member happened to be at a lecture by Jillian and found that her tribe’s entire belief system as well as spiritual integrity was being threatened by this overly zealous scientist whose only priority was not sensitivity to their way of life but the scientific verification of her assumptions.

In the course of the play you learn how the tribal lands and water “rights” have been taken away over the years and how they now live in a welfare state with food that is highly processed (read sugar added) that is brought in by helicopter to feed the surviving tribal members. You also learn that Jillian’s mother died at an early age from early onset Alzheimer’s and that Jillian and her young daughter will probably also die of the disease at some point if a genetic cure cannot be found. Once the tribe finds out the extent of the research that is being done they take the University of Arizona to court.

Although it is not mentioned in the play, court records show that the first case was thrown out but the State Supreme Court found in favor of the tribe and awarded them $700,000 plus the University was required to build schools and medical facilities on the reservation. Score one point for the tribe.

The acting is absolutely superb in this play. The five actors fill the parts of nine characters with purpose and believability. At the end of the play you could see where emotion was taking over as some of the actors were wiping tears from their eyes. The set is a huge modern “sculpture” that represents the wall of the Grand Canyon that spills out across the stage at varying levels. On the wall and floor are white rectangular boxes that light up with a variety of colors to reflect the mood of the scene. There are a number of trap doors used to store various props that are used with great efficiency. The costuming is pertinent and authentic and adds to the drama.

Another interesting twist to the work is “the cards”. Prior to the play, audience members are asked to take a colored card and answer the question that is on it. The questions range from “Tell us about your child” to “How did you feel when someone close to you died”. Over the course of the play, select cards are picked and read out loud. The result is more audience participation (a small breach in the fourth wall) as well as the realization that we are dealing with human emotions not statistics.

Although kept in a serious tone for the most part, there are parts of levity that help raise the production up from being morose. Again, the lightness adds another human element so that we are not allowed to be disconnected from the theme.

Prude Alert: There is no profanity or sexual reference but the subject matter deals with the subjugation of an entire people. This is a good show for everyone to learn from.

Beefs and Flubs: This is a top notch performance done by highly competent actors with a strong story to tell. All five work their roles with a high degree of confidence.

Shooting From The Lip (In My Opinion): “Informed Consent” delves far deeper than the story of an overzealous scientist taking unauthorized advantage of a delicate spiritual situation. It is a microcosm of the treatment of all native peoples at the hands of well meaning but misguided scholars who cannot see beyond the edge of their research. See this play in order to learn and think.

“Informed Consent” was originally commissioned by The Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science & Technology Project. Additional funding for this production was also provided by the EST/Sloan Project.

The design team for “Informed Consent” includes Michael Raiford (Scenic Designer), Amanda L. Doherty (Costume Designer), Brian J. Lilienthal (Lighting Designer), Matt Callahan (Sound Designer). Stage Manager for this production of “Informed Consent” will be Jennifer Matheson Collins.

The Cast of “Informed Consent” includes Jessica Wortham as One/Jillian, Fajer Al-Kaisi as Two/Graham, Larissa Fast Horse as Three/Arella/Natalie, Gilbert Cruz as Four/Ken/Lawyer and Tina Fabrique as Five/Dean Hagen/Mother/Grandmother.

The actors and stage managers of this production are members of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

Informed Consent Special Events

15th Humanism &
The Healing Arts Multidisciplinary Conference
April 29, 2014
1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

CPH has joined forces with the Summa Health System for this one-day symposium which, like Informed Consent, combines Art and Science in a truly unique way. Join CPH artistic staff and Informed Consent cast, as well as a diverse group of medical professionals, for this one-of-a-kind event.
Presentation and Panel Discussion: Presentation by Cleveland Play House staff and actors from the play Informed Consent by Deborah Zoe Laufer
Kirk A Stiffler, MD, MPH, FACEP - Director, Emergency Medicine Research Center and Chair, Institutional Review Board, Summa Health System.
Cristie Cole, JD, Fellow, Cleveland Fellowship in Advanced Bioethics, Member of the Mohawk Nation (aka Akwesasne).
Cleveland Play House staff and actors.
The Summa Health System designates this live activity for a maximum of 2.0 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s) TM. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. The Summa Health System is accredited by the Ohio State Medical Association to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

Talkback: “Informed Consent”

May 04, 2014
4:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
May 06, 2014
9:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
May 11, 2014
4:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Stay after the show to continue the conversation our plays start! TalkBacks offer the chance to interact with the cast, creative team, local experts and fellow playgoers in an open and lively Q&A about the play and the questions it raises.

Pre-show Conversations - Free for all ticketholders!

Free for all ticket holders! These fun and interactive 25-minute conversations happen right before the show in the Allen Theatre Complex. Pull back the curtain early and connect with the play in an engaging and relaxed setting, beginning 45 minutes before every subscription performance.

Ticket Information

“Informed Consent” will take place April 23 – May 18, 2014 in the Second Stage at PlayhouseSquare. Tickets range in price from $45-$72 each. Students under the age of 25 with a valid ID will be offered a special $15 ticket price. Tickets are also just $25 for anyone under age 35, sponsored by Scene Magazine. To order single tickets please call 216-241-6000 or visit Groups of 10+ save up to 40% off single ticket prices; call 216-400-7027.

Performance Schedule

7:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m.

7:00 p.m.

7:30 p.m.

7:30 p.m.

7:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m.

7:00 p.m.

7:30 p.m.

1:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.

7:30 p.m.

1:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m.

7:00 p.m.

7:30 p.m.

7:30 p.m.

7:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m.

Founded in 1915, Cleveland Play House is America’s first professional regional theatre. Throughout its rich history, Cleveland Play House has remained dedicated to its mission to inspire, stimulate and entertain diverse audiences in Northeast Ohio by producing plays and theatre education programs of the highest professional standards. It has produced more than 100 world and/or American premieres, and over its long history more than 12 million people have attended over 1,300 CPH productions. Cleveland Play House looks toward its centennial while performing in three state-of-the art venues at PlayhouseSquare in downtown Cleveland.

The Ohio Arts Council helped fund Cleveland Play House with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. We also thank the residents of Cuyahoga County for supporting Cleveland Play House through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.