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A Poster of the Cosmos

Wilson, Lanford

Last Updated: Jan-28-1997
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play


A powerful one person/one act play set in a police station in Manhattan. Addressing a cop "who would be at the other end of the table," Tom, a 36-year-old baker suffering from "survivor guilt," has been accused of killing his lover Johnny who had been dying from AIDS. Throughout the interrogation Tom offers insight into his and Johnny's lives prior to and during their relationship. His story also is permeated with attacks on an uncaring and ignorant society, especially when he mocks the interrogator's derogatory refrain, "You don't look like the kinna guy'd do somethin' like dat."

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These three short plays (approximately 30 minutes each) were commissioned for use in readers' theatre (see Commentary). Each addresses a specific patient/provider concern at the end of life. "Journey Into that Good Night" by Berry Barta is the story of a dying adolescent coming to terms with her mortality. Her physician demonstrates gratifying sensitivity in his understanding of her emotional struggle and the girl's mother progresses perceptibly in her own grief process in the course of the dialogues.

Marjorie Ellen Spence offers "Stars at the Break of Day," set in a nursing home where a middle aged man dying of cancer is confined. The reader meets a spectrum of elderly residents whose antics provide the humor necessary to keep the piece from becoming maudlin. There is discussion about assisted suicide as well as a view into one mode of accepting pain and impending, albeit untimely, death.

The third play, "Time to Go," by C. E. McClelland, is a fantasy which combines comic whimsy with a penetrating and profound sense of reality. The central issue is that of "letting go" of a son who has long lived in a persistent vegetative state following an accident. The victim's story is articulated in conversations between him and visiting "Friends" from another realm. Without introducing theology or politics, the conversations direct the reader to focus on the parents' reluctance to make a decision to discontinue life support.

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