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June 06, 1980 - Image 9

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1980-06-06

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The Michigan Daily-Friday, June 6,1980-Page 9
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Arts
WHO 00 LIFE
Asserting the right to die

By JOSHUA PECK
It created quite a stir last year when
the wife of a prominent New York
psychistrist swallowed poison,
deliberately calling a great deal of at-
tention to herself in the process. The
woman sent out notes to her closest
(and some not-so-close) friends, ex-
plaining her decision to end her life (she
had cancer) and asserting suicide as a
reasonable and proper alternative for
her and all others whose earthly lots
had become too much to bear.
On the same note, a suicide-rights
group in England has infuriated some
Britons by publishing a guide to easy
self-destruction. Opponents fear that
access to the information might en-
courage some to commit suicide who
might otherwise look for further
solution to their woes.
BETWEEN THESE two events, a
play opened on Broadway that for the
first time brought the performing arts'
attention to the problem of suicide. It is
called Whose Life Is It Anyway and a
touring production of the show is now
playing at the Birmingham Theatre.
Suicide is not a. topic people like to
discuss. To those raised by traditional
Judeo-Christian ethics, life is too
precious a gift to surrender it, even if
immense pain is the only alternative. It
seems peculiar that while many other
taboos-premarital sex, masturbation,
homosexuality-have been crumbling,
most Americans should not have
budged a bit in considering suicide
unacceptable..
Playwright Brian Clark is not at all
happy with that particular element of
the status quo. There are times, he con-
tends, when life becomes mere existen-
ce, and simple existence is not precious
or holy; it can be terminated without
aggrieving man or God.
Ken Harrison, Clark's hero in Whose
Life, is in just such a situation. A for-
mer sculptor, he has been lying in an
English hospital bed for six months
when the curtain rises on his melan-
choly visage. Harrison is paralyzed
from the neck down. He has been forced
not only to give up his art, but also even

the remotest semblance of a normal
life. He relies on a catheter to keep his
body free of impurities that could kill
him. His only pleasures are leering at
nurses and social workers, staring at
the walls, and chatting with the Carib-
bean-born orderly who shaves him and
humorously commiserates with him
about his lot.
EARLY IN the play, Harrison
(Michael Moriarty) hears that his con-
dition is almost certainly permanent.
After a few days of thinking it over, he
decides that he would rather die than
continue to exist as a helpless invalid.
His request that his life support be
removed so that he can peacefully die is
delivered in his already-established
style; an amusing blend of keen in-
telligence, sardonic wit, and matter-of-
fact self-confidence. Harrison's request
is met with deep consternation by the
nurses on the ward, and is bluntly
refused by Dr. Emerson, whose
decision it is to make.
Michael Moriarty, last appeared in
the area as the younger son in O'Neill's
Long Day's Journey Into Night (Power
Center, 1975) and has'also shown up in
several television and film vehicles in-
cluding Williams' The Glass Menagerie
with Katharine Hepburn, the television
mini-series Holocaust, and the film
Bang the Drum Slowly. He has im-
pressed many critics, including this
one, as being one of the most talented
actors on stage or screen now working
in the U.S. (I admit to having been un-
fairly prejudices by first seeing Moriar-
ty in the title role of my favorite
drama-something about a hunchback
king.)
Moriarty is here cast in a role which
constantly would seem to handicap the
actor-his only available tools are his
face and voice. Yet the Detroit native

projects such an engrossing character,
such a stirring Mend of rapier wit and
heart-stopping pathos, that the play's
central problem grows to a major
dilemma. It becomes quite painful to
imagine permitting the demise of this
very human fugure, and of his immense
intellect at the same time. Yet that it is
his right to choose demise no sentient
observer can, in the end, deny.
MUCH OF the juice of this meaty
play is drawn from Moriarty's
simultaneously sardonic and self-
pitying remarks about his own con-
dition. If the tragedy of the human con-
dition is at the center of comedy, then
its quitessence is Harrison's promise to
a lawyer who leaves his briefcase in the
invalid's room: ". .. and if anyone
tries to steal it, I will swear horrible at
them." Such a mixture of tears and
laughter is rare-and in Moriarty's
capable hands, altogether moving.

The supporting cast, frankly, is a bit
of a bore. The doctor in charge of the
case, played stolidly by David Tabor,
never seems for a monent to consider
Harrison's arguments seriously. He'd
be more believable if he did. A
suggestion of budding romance bet-
ween two of the minor characters is so
insubstantially played it slips away en-
tirely, and the legal eagles who come in
to settle the dispute at play's end are all
but indistinguishable.
But Moriarty is so central to the ac-
tion and to the staging of Whose Life
that his compatriots' deficiences are
rendered insignificant. The play does
not stretch for a look at any really deep
or particularly complex questions. But
with humor and savvy, it does bat
around the sticky problems connected
with enthanasia and the like. It's a
delight to see morbidity so
provocatively and smoothly handled.

The Ann Arbr Film Coopentive presents at MLB: $1.50
Friday, June 6
A BOY AND HIS DOG
L Q. Jones, 1975) 7& 10:20-MLB3
Based on Harlan Ellison's short story, this film takes a kinky look at life in the
vnr 2024. The world has been decimated by a nuclear holocaust, and the
roaming survivors battle each other for food and women. A BOY AND HIS DOG
is a "science tiction titm that is an intelligent example of the genre as it should
be, unaccompanied by idiot explanations and not diluted for the masses."
-CINEFANTASTIQUE. With JASON ROBARDS and DON JOHNSON. Cinema-
scope.
THE TIME MACHINE
(George Pal, 1960) 8:40-MLB 3
A literate and imaginative adaptation of the H. G. Wells story. Noted special-
effects wizard George Pal employed excellent time-lapse photography to
capture the essence of time travel. Winner of the 1960 Academy. Award for
special effects. With ROD TAYLOR and YVETTE MIMIEUX.
Tomorrow: Sterling Hayden, Eric Roberts, and Susan Sarandon in the KING
OF THE GYPSIES at MLB.

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