World Premiere of “Roz and Ray” At Seattle Repertory Theatre

“Do no harm,” probably the most important rule in all of medicine. “Do no harm!” Sadly, sometimes the best efforts and the most up to date knowledge do result in harm. Not often, but so heartbreaking when it happens.

“Roz and Ray” begins in the early 1980s, a time when the AIDS epidemic was in its infancy, a time when good-hearted individuals, unaware of the infection growing in their own bodies, met the call to civic service by donating blood. At this time the medical community, thankful to have the “life-saving” blood supply, was ignorant of the presence of the deadly virus contained in the transfusions or blood products they administered. Lives were saved initially but the blood recipients were likely doomed to develop AIDS and die.

Roz  and Ray at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Teagle F. Bougere (Ray) and Ellen McLaughlin (Roz). Photo by Alabastro Photography.

Roz and Ray at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Teagle F. Bougere (Ray) and Ellen McLaughlin (Roz). Photo by Alabastro Photography.

This is the tale of a devoted single father, Ray, (Teagle F. Bougere) whose two sons have hemophilia. Ray commits his life to their well being and places his sons under the care of the gifted pediatrician, Dr. Roz Kagan, (Ellen McLaughlin) whose specialty is hematology. The boys are kept alive by regular injections. Bougere and Kagan play well off one another, each displaying an intensity and humanity that is visceral.

Director Chay Yew offers us a taut play where both characters are obsessed, he with the care and nurturing of his sons, she with the care and healing of all her patients. It’s that dedication, that intense preoccupation and commitment that is truly the heart of this play. Roz and Ray develop a romantic relationship, but I wish they hadn’t. It seemed a little too predictable and, for me, drew attention away from the core plot line,

Though Bougere’s acting is commendable, he has to play a somewhat contradictory character. Late in the play are revelations about his own sexual preferences that seem like an unnecessary add-on. So too are his screaming rants about the doctor. Maybe a little rethinking of that character would make this powerful tale of devotion and perseverance, of hope and dashed expectations even better.

Kudos to Scenic Designer Tim Mackabee who fills the back of the stage with a marvelous wall of wheelchairs, bikes, toys, cribs, bunk bed parts, all painted white in a giant collage.

Playwright Karen Hartman is a local author. Seattle Rep has nurtured the play, and this production is its world premiere, though it is due to open in Chicago early in 2017.

Through Nov. 13 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle (206 443-2222 or seattlerep.org).

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