Not God is a "play in verse" with two characters, a hospitalized patient and the patient's doctor. The scare quotes indicate the fluid quality of Not God, which the author originally conceived as a sequence of poems spoken in a patient's voice. Subsequently, he added the doctor poems (monologues) to create a "dialog" between the two voices. Once again, scare quotes suggest the atypical quality of this dialogue, since the two characters express different feelings and perspectives on the situation, but do not directly address one another. The play version has received several performances at colleges and small theaters.The patient speaks first in a monologue that begins "A man's cough bounces down the hallway / like pick up sticks... " and ends with "I am here two weeks." (p. 7) It soon becomes evident that he/she has cancer and is receiving chemotherapy. The doctor has changed this person's life by speaking "one word," after which "nothing / would ever be the same again." (p. 10). The patient is knowledgeable, accepting of his/her condition, a keen observer with a good sense of humor, as in "Doldrums" (p. 19) and "Cricket" (p. 23), and a person who affirms life in spite of adversity. The doctor is burdened with the power of medical knowledge. In particular, he understands the deadly meaning of signs and symptoms: "We say / excess water and swelling of the belly, knowing / full well... / an ovarian cancer is almost certain." (p. 33) But the meaning this represents is chaos: there is nothing humane or transcendent about cancer. Unlike his baseball card collection in childhood ("Shoebox," p. 35), cancer is neither confined nor orderly. In the second act, the patient sympathizes with the doctor whose "head is so cluttered / with obligatory data." Paradoxically, the doctor must be protected because he is "filled with dying." (p. 41) The doctor becomes angry with the burden, "Why / ask me a question that only God can answer?" (p. 49) and cries out that his work is "alchemy, / potions and witches' brews." (p. 54) In the end, while dying, the patient imagines "a bridge that can cross / the Atlantic." (p. 68), while the doctor speaks a prayer, "The word cure, dear God, is always / near my lips, though I have been constrained from / saying it aloud." (p. 66)


Most of the doctor monologues and some of the patient monologues in Not God were previously published in one of Marc Straus' two earlier collections, One Word (1994) and Symmetry (2000). In addition to the carefully arranged poems, the current version includes a production history and notes from the author regarding production characteristics. He notes that the patient, although played by one actor, may change personae during the play. As a dramatic piece, Not God creates an effective picture of the inner life of patient and doctor as they confront fatal illness. In a sense the play lays bare the "bones" of the patient-doctor relationship, although, as noted, there is no specific interaction or relationship recounted by this series of monologues. Interesting dynamics emerge. The patient expresses compassion for the doctor who is "filled with dying." The doctor confronts meaninglessness like an existential hero, until at last he speaks to God, asking only that "the little boy with Wilm's tumor / will have no side effects from his chemotherapy." (p. 66) As his/her illness progresses, the patient evolves through many different versions of hope, until his only hope is the fantasy of a bridge that crosses the Atlantic Ocean. We can almost see the patient beginning to walk across that bridge. 

Primary Source

Not God


TriQuarterly Books

Place Published

Evanston, Illinois



Page Count