By Bob Bows, ColoradoDrama.com (Read the original.)
One of the great mysteries of the world has always been what happens during near death experiences and after death. Among the many observations that surround these unknown states are the extremely varied stories regarding comatose patients. What are they going through and what can we, the living, expect if and when one of our loved ones comes out of such a state?
Based on personal experience, playwright David Valdes Greenwood explores many of these questions to great dramatic effect in the world premiere of Full Code, now in production by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company at the newly renovated Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder.
Sander (Casey Andree) has been in an accident and is lying in a hospital bed. Director Stephen Weitz, who worked with Greenwood on this project since it was chosen by the company as the first winner of its Generations new play development program, does sublime work with his design team, particularly lighting and sound, and with the tenor of the conversations, to move deftly through various states of consciousness and reality, tying together the playwright’s multi-level storyline.
Sander’s medical team, doctor and nurse, is as conflicted as his personal support, estranged wife, Callie (Laura Norman) and his best female friend, Lauren (Máire Higgins), with whom he works. On the prognosis level, two of the prominent schools of thought on comas—medical measurements and vital signs versus psycho-spiritual holistic practice—are represented in Dr. See’s (Devon James) clinical point-of-view versus Dennis the nurse’s (Warren Sherrill) coma whispering (proven therapeutic techniques which stimulate the comatose patient).
Closer to home, Lauren (Higgins), Sander’s young, southern, religious co-worker and confidant, who hopes for an eventual relationship with him after he is divorced, has recently talked him into changing his living will from DNR (“do not resuscitate”) to Full Code (“do everything possible”), which rubs Callie (Norman), an atheist, the wrong way, when she shows up and assumes Lauren and Sander had something going on in her absence.
Greenwood tops off all of these scenic threads—some real, some from the active part of Sander’s mind trying to communicate, and some from Sander’s imagination—with coma-world hospital room conversations with Joseph (Luke Sorge), husband of the Virgin Mary and “stepfather” to Jesus, as well as Sander’s ex-employee, Jackie (Karen Slack), who is there to haunt him about her being laid off.
Without moving from his bed, Andree’s Sander is the center of attention and the play’s universe. Through him, we see what many scientists and practitioners believe happens to comatose patients, who are listening and responding without an exterior indication of these responses. It is his BFF from the office, Lauren (Higgins), and his nurse, Dennis (Sherill), who believe in this reality, while Dr. See (James) and Callie (Norman) do not find much, if any, credence in it.
Higgins’ consistency and stalwartness as Lauren, upholds both a spiritual and heartfelt perspective, even if so-called liberals tend to dismiss these values because of their association with fundamentalist “Christianity,” even as Norman is similarly committed and convincing as the jaded liberal who, nevertheless, retrieves an almost forgotten sanctity from her wedding vows.
Sherrill’s Dennis is the emotional anchor of the story, keeping everyone, from the circumspect Dr. See to the believer Lauren, on good terms. Slack, via Jackie, lands a succession of full body blows on Sander and Callie, which helps maintain levity regarding the moral ambiguity of Sander’s life. James channels the professional tone of the medical profession and then breaks loose as Mel, the outspoken wife of Sorge’s Bert, a damaged but stalwart stroke victim. Sorge rocks with a fun and renegade invocation of Joseph, who struggles trying to comes to terms with his wife, the mother of Jesus, and her “lifestyle,” as well as his spot-on physical indications as the physically challenged Bert.