by Everett Goldner · August 18, 2014
During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, one regional hospital becomes cut off from the outside world when its power generator goes out due to flooding. Some personnel escape via helicopter, but a number of nurses and doctors choose to stay, along with some number of patients in severe conditions. As the days pass, medical supplies dwindle, leading the chief of staff into an ethical impasse – there is simply not enough medicine left to treat all the patients still under her care. So she takes what seems to her to be the only course she can – she elects to give three patients in critical conditions, those with the most minimal chances of surviving much longer even with a full staff and supplies, an intentional overdose of chemical morphine.
Natural Causes follows the fallout of this doctor’s choice, as the Assistant District Attorney of Louisiana conducts a fact-finding inquiry to determine if the case should be brought before a grand jury. The play is presented in a perfectly straightforward, faux-documentary manner, in a nondescript room in the district courthouse, as the Asst. D.A. and another counsel interview those involved in this situation one by one. These interviews play out as if they had been lifted directly from transcripts of a parallel real-life dilemma (and to a greater or lesser degree they have been; the play is based on actual events and the playwright “fictionalized people and specific details, but not the situation they faced.”)
The effect is something like watching a John Grisham novel play out onstage, and should appeal to anyone who is a fan of that genre. There is nothing whatever in the way of theatrical effects verbal, psychological or otherwise, nothing high-voltage or groundbreaking, simply a straightforward moral dilemma lifted from recent history. Basic character dichotomy is present: Asst. D.A. Devanney is a character drawn from the old school of opulent New Orleans good-ol-boyism, (“if I wanted my ass kissed I’d get a hooker”); his legal counterpart is stiff, bespectacled and by-the-numbers. Of the four interviewees, one nurse is brash and no-bullshit where the other is a doormat, cowed and terrified (and since the incident, unemployed); we also hear from the two doctors involved, one of whom is diva-esque while the doctor at the crux of the case, who gave the order for overdose and stands by it, is presented as honest and conscience-ridden.
Natural Causes has three more performances at Fringe, this Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.