Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
"Whose Life Is it Anyway?" is an exceptionally intelligent, perceptive drama. A current London success, Brian Clark's play begins the Folger Theater Group's ninth season and is having its "American premiere" here concurrent with another production by The Actors Theater of Louisville.
Led by John Neville Andrews, the Folger's major roles enjoy incisive performances in a commendable production. The run, which had its official start Monday night, will be through Nov. 19.
Do not put off by the theme, eutlasia. That death and how to face it is having a theatrical vogue is not to be deplored. Mankind is united in awareness that we all are to die. Even if only secretly, we yearn for sensitive direction to prepare for the inevitable.
Clark has imagined an unusually clear-cut situation. Ken Harrison, a sculptor who also teaches his art, has been paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. His mind is alert and clear. Wholly capable of reasoning and with a quick wit which reveals what sort of alert, life-loving man he has been. Ken has decided, calmly and quietly that to be a talking head, dependant on others for all his bodily needs, is not life.
The doctor who "for about 48 hours just kept you alive from minute to minute" sees his paramount responsibility in keeping the body alive. Removal of a catheter will be fatal to Ken's body in a matter of days. Ken obtains a solicitor who understands his aim: "To die quietly and with as much dignity as I can muster . . . The dignity lies in the choice."
The implication within the situation are reflected in that beautiful British art, understatement. Though the conflict is between medicine ant the law, we are made conscious of others.
Ken's father and mother have reacted the opposite from what he might have expected. His fiancee obeys his order to bow out. A youthful probationer nurse, a more matronly "Ward Sister" and a woman doctor who can spark his intellectual respect suggest varying points of view and a West Indian Orderly adds a further attitude.
Thanks to these interesting characters, as well played, The didactic tone is avoided. Clark could hardly state this particular dilemma more clearly. He creates the dignity Ken demands: "If I cannot be a man, I do not wich to be a medical achievement."
Confined to act only from the neck up. Neville-Andrews makes Ken marvelously alive, witty and courageous, a performance which never flags. Mary Hara Judith Ivey. Marion Lines, Alvin Hippolyte and Ralph Cosham, in other major roles, are all impressive.
That marbles-in-the-mouth disease which too often afflicts Americans playing Britons mars the final portion of the performance, ovelapping leading to under diction. But Hugh Lester's sets and lighting are exemplary in service to this very line play.