Powerful performances in "Whose Life is it Anyway?" at the Cultch

Whose Life is it Anyway? first appeared on television in 1972 and it is still as relevant and important today as it was then. Written by Brian Clark, the theme is the freedom to live or die. Ken Harrison, played by Bob Frazer, is a sculptor in the prime of his life who has spent five months in the hospital after suffering a severed spinal cord in a car accident. His body may be irreparably damaged but his brain is perfectly fine thank you and after giving it a lot of thought, he wants to die.

Bob Frazer is Ken Harrison in the Cultch's "Whose Life is it Anyway?"
All photos courtesy of Tim Matheson

Whose Life is it Anyway? first appeared on television in 1972 and it is still as relevant and important today as it was then. Written by Brian Clark, the theme is the freedom to live or die. Ken Harrison, played by Bob Frazer, is a sculptor in the prime of his life who has spent five months in the hospital after suffering a severed spinal cord in a car accident. His body may be irreparably damaged but his brain is perfectly fine, thank you.

The Cultch is a lovely, intimate space with the open stage on the floor. When I walked in, Bob Frazer was lying in his bed in a spare, functional hospital set close enough to touch. Kudos to Bob Frazer—he stays in that bed moving only his head for over 2 hours. And he gives a superb performance using just his voice and facial expressions, running the gamut of emotions from sardonic humour, to anguish, to rage and back again.

Harrison wishes to die rather than live in such a severely handicapped state. Since he’s incapable of killing himself and euthanasia is illegal, he wants to be discharged so that he can die. Without specialist care, he will expire within a week.

His main opponent is Dr. Emerson played by Michael Kopsa in a strong, convincing performance. Emerson believes that preserving life is his ultimate mission. When Harrison declares he wants to kill himself, Emerson fights him with everything he has.

What follows is a gripping drama that explores a truly provocative issue and one that will strike a cord with any who see the play. Remarkably, the play is not a downer. Perversely hilarious at times, Harrison’s dialogue is peppered with wisecracks, insights and innuendos—many of which are aimed at Sister Anderson, the tough older nurse with a heart of gold, played to a “T” by the talented Patti Allan.

Dr. Scott, played by Jennifer Lines, does an excellent job of expressing shifting emotions as she first sides with Emerson and then gradually realizes that Harrison has a valid point—as hard to accept as it may be. Marc Senior as John the orderly, plays the funny man with flamboyant confidence, keeping Harrison, and the audience, entertained—particularly when he’s coming on to young nurse Kay Sadler, nicely played by Pippa Johnston.

Marc Senior and Bob Frazer in "Whose Life is it Anyway?"

Marc Senior and Bob Frazer in "Whose Life is it Anyway?". Photo by Tim Matheson.  

The rest of the cast, Dawn Petten, as a social worker, Jeffrey Renn as Harrison’s lawyer and Marci T, House as the judge are excellent in their supporting roles.

I loved the ingenious two-level set with the sliding screens—a great use of limited space. The lighting and sound design were excellent and the whole presentation was well managed.

I had only two gripes. Firstly, that it went on a touch too long. There were scenes in which secondary characters argued points the audience was already familiar with. These could have been cut. Secondly I found the music provided by a single violin to be too heavy and foreboding. I would have preferred something lighter.

Whose Life is it Anyway? is an affirmation of the human spirit and individual freedom. This is a difficult subject. The Cultch is to be congratulated for taking on this controversial issue and turning it into a powerful, must-see event.

Whose Life is it Anyway? plays at the Cultch, March 11 – 22

 

 

 

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