Edge of Life offers a heartfelt investigation into the American way of death | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Edge of Life offers a heartfelt investigation into the American way of death

Joel Z. Cornfield's drama uses humor to avoid getting maudlin.



Inglis Hall Productions presents the world premiere of Joel Z. Cornfield's timely play about how Americans deal with death—or don't. Dr. Jake Forest is a surgeon who's going through a divorce, drinks too much, and is sleeping with Heather, one of the nurses at his hospital. When his high school coach, Bill Erickson, asks to be taken off his cancer meds and be allowed to die on his own terms, Forest begins to reassess many of his own life choices.

Buzz Leer is the standout in a strong cast as the dying coach. He reminded me strongly of John Garfield, the classic tough-guy in black-and-white movies. Hearing him read Forest the riot act made me ready to go out on the field and give it my all myself. His vulnerability as he tells those close to him it's time to let him go is the heart of the whole piece.

The circular set, periodically rotated lazy Susan-style by two orderlies, effectively communicates both the passage of hours as well as the thin walls between hospital rooms.

Cornfield manages to keep the heavy subject matter from becoming maudlin by throwing in enough gallows humor to make the audience laugh a little between the tears. But at the root of it, this is a plaintive and heartfelt investigation of the ways that we distract ourselves from end-of-life issues in this country with medicine and happy talk rather than actually reckoning with them. Brian McKnight directed.   v

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