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Wednesday, February 14, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater Review

Morals are lifeblood of the operation in "The God Committee"

Special to The Seattle Times

Making its regional debut at Taproot Theatre, Mark St. Germain's "The God Committee" concerns a group of well-meaning hospital professionals in close quarters, debating matters of life and death with passion to spare, and no easy solutions.

You could strip this play to its bare essentials and you'd still have the riveting diversion of intelligent, forceful personalities under pressure to make difficult decisions. In this case they have to determine the most qualified recipient of a heart transplant, with several desperate candidates near death and the single donor heart being frantically couriered through heavy downtown traffic. Time is running out.

As Reginald Rose did in his classic teleplay and subsequent screenplay for "12 Angry Men" (coming this spring on tour to 5th Avenue Theatre), St. Germain has selected a representative cross-section of humanity to engage the debate.

Now playing

"The God Committee," by Mark St. Germain, Wednesdays-Saturdays through March 3, Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle; $25-$32 (206-781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

On a busy St. Patrick's Day at St. Patrick's Metropolitan Hospital in New York, the transplant-selection committee gathers in a clean, utilitarian conference room: four physicians (Candace Vance, Don Brady, Philip Davidson and Pam Nolte) with diverse and opposing viewpoints; a registered nurse (Rachel Pate) with justified concerns about race; a Catholic priest (Dale Bowers) who's also a lawyer; and a disabled social worker (Marquam Krantz) whose humor is a form of emotional self-defense.

The potential transplant recipients are equally diverse, each posing an ethical challenge to the transplant committee. They include a drug-addicted 23-year-old billionaire's son with daddy's money in his favor; a failed 49-year-old poet who's HIV positive with no family or friends; and a 68-year-old woman whose attempted suicide tragically resonates with one of the physicians.

As this morally charged scenario unfolds in Mark Lund's exacting re-creation of a generic committee room (on a protruding stage that snugly accommodates Taproot's horseshoe seating arrangement), a more naturalistic approach to dialogue would've provided welcome balance against the play's occasional speechifying. Taproot's production is well-acted throughout (and Davidson leads the committee with authoritative gravitas), but there's ample room for subtlety that's not always evident in this otherwise timely and praiseworthy production.

The drama is inherently schematic, but playwright St. Germain (who co-wrote the underrated family film "Duma") channels didactic positions through flesh-and-blood characters with fiercely personal perspectives. Inevitably, their agendas clash and the debate gets personal when sensitive nerves are exposed. The staging by director Scott Nolte (the spouse of actress Pam) is unobtrusive and efficient; the characters must remain moving without seeming hyperactive, and Nolte rises to that challenge with a no-intermission, 80-minute production that never lulls. When St. Germain tosses in a twist to thwart expectations, the well-chosen cast does a fine job of maintaining suspense against what initially appears to be an inevitable outcome.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

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