Are we our DNA or our memories? What counts for more in our all-too-brief lives: the hard science of our genetic destiny or the treasured stories of our personal histories? How do we reconcile the contradictions of faith and science? And what lines can we cross in the name of saving someone we love?
These are the sorts of provocative questions posed by the intellectually stimulating and emotionally stirring “Informed Consent,” now playing at GableStage at the Biltmore. Written by Deborah Zoe Laufer — author of such works as “End Days” and “The Three Sisters of Weehawken,” which she directed last fall at Theatre Lab in Boca Raton — “Informed Consent” ponders the big questions of mortality, faith and legacy with intelligence and compassion.
This time, GableStage’s artistic director Joseph Adler gets a break: The playwright herself is directing. Laufer keeps things straightforward, all the better to follow the compelling and thought-provoking meat of her story about Jillian, a geneticist who has learned she carries the gene for early onset Alzheimer’s — and may have passed it on to her young daughter.
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Played with heartbreaking intensity by GableStage veteran Betsy Graver (“Disgraced,” “Venus in Fur,” “The Motherf**ker With the Hat”), Jillian has been asked to join a diabetes study of a Native American tribe that has lived in relative isolation in the Grand Canyon. Such a population is a godsend to a researcher, but Jillian’s interest isn’t in the diabetes that is decimating the tribe. What she really wants is to find a breakthrough so she can get her own lab to work on a cure for the disease that could be lurking in her daughter.
Her husband Graham (the wonderful Jovon Jacobs, recently seen in “All the Way” at Actors’ Playhouse) is supportive — but only to a point. Jillian, ever the scientist, wants to run genetic tests on their daughter. She wants to attack the problem head-on. Graham, however, does not want to know if the little girl carries the gene. He doesn’t want her — or himself — infected with the weight of dread and fear.
The grim subject matter is offset with an appropriately spare set by Lyle Baskin, warmly lit by lighting designer Jeff Quinn, reflecting a Southwestern radiance. The other three cast members — Elizabeth Dimon, Francisca Munoz and Carlos Orizondo — play rotating parts (tribe members, other academics, busybody mothers) adding welcome bursts of humor.
“Real science is in the mistakes,” one character says at one point. Jillian’s errors are considerable, but Laufer’s play challenges you to consider what you’d do in her shoes. The answers aren’t easy, and perhaps they shouldn’t be.
If you go
What: “Informed Consent” by Deborah Zoe Laufer
When: Through Aug. 27; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m.
Where: GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables
Tickets: $42-$60; www.gablestage.org.