Fans of hectic emergency-room dramas won’t find any blood or sweat in Mark St. Germain’s hospital-set The God Committee. All of the action in this 75-minute ensemble piece takes place in a germ-free boardroom where doctors and administrators bicker over which patient deserves to get a heart transplant. Instead of messy bodily malfunction, we get angry speeches, accusatory stares, and emotional spillage. A claustrophobic talk fest, The God Committee wields a blunt moralistic scalpel—doctors are people too!—but its bracing view of the medical profession is potent enough to cause something like a shock to the system.
The play begins with a death and ends with a rebirth. It’s St. Patrick’s Day morning, and somewhere, a heart becomes available. The doctors of a prominent Manhattan hospital must decide who among four candidates should receive the organ. The piece proceeds in real time, with an onstage clock counting the minutes until the heart arrives. Heading the proceedings is chief physician Jack Klee (Larry Keith), who we learn has health issues of his own. Other members of the demographically diverse jury include head nurse Nella Larkin (Brenda Thomas, taking no bullshit), a neophyte intern (Maha Chehlaoui, endearingly optimistic), and a psychiatrist (Amy Van Nostrand, cerebral and brittle).
Nothing about The God Committee registers as subtle, including its title. The play takes on too much philosophical baggage—religion, ethics, suicide, redemption. And the startling conclusion is that physicians are as flawed as the patients they treat. But St. Germain’s characters lodge in the brain with their desperate, flailing professionalism. They’re memorable not for wearing their hearts on their sleeves, but for trying to conceal them. In the end, the organ in question must go to someone, and once it does, everyone simply moves on.