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By Don DeLillo
Coronet Print Room, Notting Hill Gate, London
Until December 8th, 2018
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Don DeLillo, one of the pillars of American literary fiction and author of White Noise and Underworld has also dipped his toes into theatrical waters, having written three plays, and the enterprising Print Room at the Coronet has nabbed the UK premiere of the 2005 play Love-Lies-Bleeding.
The theme is assisted dying. Alex (Joe McGann) is a haggard, middle-aged, artist who has retreated to the American south west to pursue his large scale ‘land art’. Following a stroke he has been tragically reduced to a Persistent Vegetative State. He is tended to by his devoted young fourth wife Lia (Clara Indrani) when the older second wife Toinette (Josie Lawrence) and his son Sean (Jack Wilkinson) appear. They set off a debate on the value of keeping him suspended in that awful limbo.
The text explores the broad issues around assisted dying: what are the limits of a life and who has a right to end it. Sean has been on the internet studying euthanasia, “I love the language of body failure” he proclaims rather startlingly. With Toinette he initiates a programme of slowly and surreptitiously increasing his father’s morphine doses. His argument is that the breathing apparatus is causing his father pain and their attempts to assist him, with what the medical world calls ‘terminal sedation’, are an act of mercy. Our sympathies for him are tempered however by learning that his relationship with his father had not been an easy one. Toinette is more jittery about the whole enterprise.
There is some light relief, in flashbacks to better times for Alex, when the intensity of his early passion for Toinette is explored.
These are epic themes for 90 mins straight however and while Jack McNamara’s direction has clarity the play feels inert and never takes fire dramatically. The actors, even ones as good as this, seem constrained and struggle with speeches as opposed to dialogue, with the result that we never really get under the skin of any of the characters.
The title comes from the colloquial name for a rather florid crimson flower that is tenacious enough to survive the desert. It’s an apt metaphor for the struggle to keep going.