An intriguing slice of medical history is dramatized in Karen Hartman’s new play, about the father of hemophiliac sons and the pediatrician trying to save them, on stage at Seattle Rep through Nov. 13.
An intriguing slice of medical history is dramatized in Karen Hartman’s “Roz and Ray,” a play partly developed in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Writers Group and now on stage at the Rep in a world premiere production directed by Chay Yew.
It’s 1976, and up until this point, a diagnosis of hemophilia was basically a deferred death sentence, the inability to produce blood clots making any bleed — especially an internal one — a perilous prospect.
Not anymore, says Dr. Roz Kagan (Ellen McLaughlin), the San Diego pediatrician caring for the two hemophiliac sons of single father Ray Leon (Teagle F. Bougere). The sons are the ones afflicted, but in this two-actor play, the story belongs to the doctor and the dad, pushed together and ripped apart over the course of a decade.
‘Roz and Ray’
by Karen Hartman. Through Nov. 13 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle; $16-$59 (206-443-2222 or seattlerep.org).
“We’re never going back to the dark ages,” Roz exults, and she shows the two boys how to inject Factor VIII, a newly available clotting protein extracted from the collective blood of tens of thousands of donors.
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Except, there’s a new dark age just around the corner.
A few minutes into the play, we’ve jumped forward from the warm confines of Roz’s office to a spot outside the hospital 15 years later. A protesting Ray has a chilling message written on cardboard, and he won’t stop shouting it.
Though it sometimes functions as a medical thriller, with story beats and dialogue that recall a slightly more highbrow version of some early Michael Crichton novels, “Roz and Ray” is at its core a romance.
Hartman’s chronologically fragmented script works to complicate what is a fairly straightforward tale of love won and lost. Some of the play’s weighty issues — medical ethics, pharmaceutical corruption, political inaction — get short shrift in this configuration.
The specter of the coming AIDS crisis looms over “Roz and Ray” from its very first moments, but the characters tiptoe around it, never wanting to admit that things are as bad as they look.
When Roz first notices reports in several medical journals about then-unnamed HIV potentially infecting hemophiliac patients, she’s wracked with indecision. Should she consciously take a step back into the “dark ages” and stop prescribing Factor, or should she wait for a firmer consensus?
That wrenching feeling of paralysis is a key component of McLaughlin’s turn as Roz; there’s a constant churning internal struggle that shadows the character’s fundamental compassion, warring forces that manifest in the subtlest of ways. It’s a delicate, finely honed performance ideal for the close quarters of the Rep’s Leo K. Theatre.
Bougere’s performance is sort of the opposite, his emotions rendered ecstatically whether they’re celebratory or funereal. It’s an approach that helps lend some authentic “opposites attract” chemistry to the ensuing romance, especially needed with a script that’s not quite as convincing in that regard.
Before a single word is spoken, it’s impossible not to fixate on Tim Mackabee’s scenic design, which features a backdrop of stark white cribs, teddy bears, rocking horses, high chairs and tricycles, all smashed together in a crumpled tapestry. It’s like a tornado just touched down on a nursery.
It’s a perfect visual metaphor for the pinpointed devastation that occurs in “Roz and Ray.” Sometimes, you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.