Ancient Greek culture needed an entity devoted entirely to justice: a group that was implacable, unsleeping and single-minded in pursuit of oath-breakers and those who shed familial blood. Known by the Greeks as the Erinyes, the Romans called them the Furies.
We've all spent time with them. After a car crash, that expensive mistake at work, or the error that threatens the life of a loved one or friend, theirs are the invisible and ceaseless voices: first of inquiry, then analysis, and, ultimately, indictment.
And as long as the Furies grind away, retracing the intricate circuitry of fault, we stay handcuffed to the witness stand. It doesn't matter if we're not the accused; either way, justice must be wrought.
In Deborah Salem Smith's drama Love Alone, Dr. Becca Neal (Jenny Wales), an anesthesiologist at the start of her career, and Helen Warren (Julia Gibson), a bereaved woman, become caught in a vortex of responsibility after a routine operation went awry, ending the life of Helen's partner, Susan.
Smith's economical prose effectively captures some of the awkwardness and best intentions in both parties—and some of the medical field's disturbing halfway measures when it comes to end of life issues. Becca cuts off Helen's agitated questions, saying, "Please, let me keep going," as her explanation of what happened in the operating room descends into medical terminology no layperson would know. And a brusque "decedent services representative" doesn't help matters much when she hurriedly presents Helen and her adult daughter, Clementine (Arielle Yoder), with a "bereavement packet" that includes contact numbers for cemeteries, the coroner's office and a list of social workers—"all names I've heard nice things about," she dismissively reassures them.
But in an era in which doctors and patients both are routinely demonized in the coverage of medical malpractice lawsuits, Smith insists on depicting the humanity on both sides of the conflict.
Becca outlines to husband J.P. (Patrick McHugh) the inevitable formal review that follows such an incident: a departmental inquiry in front of 60 doctors on the actions that were taken. Then there are the intangibles. How do staff members talk about a doctor who loses a patient she shouldn't have? And how does that doctor find the confidence to ever go back into the operating room after such a loss?
As Smith pulls back from the epicenter, we see the shockwaves destablize both families. The inevitable legal challenge threatens to consume Becca's marriage and Helen's relationship with her daughter, as both descend into a relentless search for answers. Smith's script also examines timely issues about the legal ramifications of marriage equality, and her text gives needed visibility to the internal dynamics of one same-sex marriage.
Under Vivienne Benesch's direction, Wales shows how driven Becca is to find answers that may ultimately not support her. Gibson's heartfelt work as Helen is leavened by Arielle Yoder's turn as Clementine, an angry rock singer and songwriter. Derrick Ivey is strong as Clementine's attorney, Mr. Rush, and Kathryn Hunter-Williams assists in a trio of supporting roles.
Ultimately, we're convinced that the most relentless pursuers and prosecutors these characters face (or flee) are themselves. Smith seems to conclude that when our Furies are as self-generated as these, only one thing can possibly redeem us. Consult the title for the answer. And see the show.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A family lashes out at a doctor in Love Alone, a revival of Stoppard's Arcadia "