Layers of Life: “The Quality of Life” Controversies

quality script“…here’s to the magic of the stage and the beautiful impermanence of it all.” – Jane Anderson

Playwright Jane Anderson has lived many lives with her award-winning work, “The Quality of Life,” Intrepid Theatre Company’s Season Six opener which runs July 3 – Aug 2 at the Carlsbad Village Theatre. In addition to directing the play at the American Conservatory Theatre and the Geffen, she also helped mount a production at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, where she continued to “tear the second act apart and put it back together,” as she told Dramaturg Janine Sobeck. Why so much drama with this drama?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Anderson’s writing digs deep into issues that most playwrights wouldn’t touch, while striking the perfect balance between the humanity and humor of it all. This is not an easy task to undertake, especially while navigating the specific tightropes that connect the characters in this play.

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“The Vision Fire” (Photo by Richard Blair)

“The Quality of Life” was written in 2007 and inspired by Anderson’s friends who were dealing with a potentially terminal illness in their relationship. Also influential in the telling of this story is the 1995 Mount Vision Fire in Northern California that burned over 12,000 acres. Intertwined in this narrative are these themes of loss and grief, but also of the necessity of survival.

The story follows Ohio couple Dinah and Bill who travel to Northern California to visit Dinah’s cousin, Jeannette, and her husband, Neil. Dinah and Bill are still grieving the tragic loss of their daughter and hope to provide comfort to Jeannette and Neil who have recently lost their home to fire. Additionally, Neil has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. No sooner do Dinah and Bill land on the doorstep of the yurt that Neil and Jeannette have constructed on the property of their burnt out home, that they all begin to realize how vastly different their perspectives are on a variety of issues, including religion, the afterlife and medical marijuana.

cross“In times of darkness, as humans, we tend to gravitate towards hope and towards humor,” says Christy Yael-Cox, Producing Artistic Director of Intrepid and director of this production. “Watching the characters manage those extremes are what makes this play so captivating, as well as completely relatable.”

Bringing these characters to life is a master class cast of actors: Tom Stephenson and Maggie Carney will portray Bill and Dinah and DeAnna Driscoll and Jeffrey Jones will portray Jeannette and Neil.

Medical-Cannabis1While the emotional landscape of the writing is captivating enough for audiences, also interesting is that the range of topical issues addressed in the story are still as relevant today as they were when the play was written eight years ago:

End of Life Options. In dealing with his terminal cancer, Neil shares that he plans to end his own life before the cancer becomes too painful. This is understandably uncomfortable for Bill and Dinah to grasp, and audiences might be familiar with the recent events around Brittany Maynard, a brain cancer victim and Californian who moved to Oregon in order to take the same action. Before her death, Brittany worked to bring legal change to our state, so that patients with aggressive cancers may choose to end their lives with dignity. SB 128, the End of Life Option Act, has recently been passed in the California Senate.

Medical Marijuana. With the recent legalization of marijuana in certain states, and the prevalence of medical marijuana facilities in California and San Diego, this topic can be highly charged, especially when addressing issues of cancer treatments. Bill and Neil have very different perspectives on this issue that are discussed during the course of the play.

Grief. There is no textbook to coping with loss. The post-traumatic stress of losing a child or a spouse and grappling with how to continue after such darkness can be both difficult to navigate as well as overcome. Bill and Dinah want to connect as much as they want to stay isolated. Jeannette fears the future without Neil. Is it possible for these characters to see each other through the darkest of moments and into the light?

Intrepid plans to invite speakers on both sides of many of these issues for talkbacks after select performances of “The Quality of Life.” More information will be available on the website.

“The Quality of Life” by Jane Anderson opens July 5 at the Carlsbad Village Theatre, 2822 State Street. Tickets available here

The Quality of Life Page 2