A chorus of lab techs making symmetrical repetitive motions with microscopes, pipettes, and petri dishes opens the play. They persist in the background of the set, which is the waiting and consulting rooms of a clinic for reproductive technology.  The chief, Dr. Staiman, is not only an expert in this field of human biology  he also enjoys an international reputation (and many patents) for his genetic manipulation of orchids in a quest for perfect blooms.

Heather and Rose are both clients of the facility. Heather wants a baby and needs help to be able to conceive. Rose could actually conceive on her own; however, she is investing in expensive and painful genetic selection to avoid having a child with the same trait as her brother. His Tourette’s syndrome, she contends, ruined life for her parents and herself as well as for him.

It emerges that Heather too has Tourette’s syndrome, but she does not believe it ruined life for her family and is unafraid of having an affected child. The women must wrestle with the notion that Rose does not think someone like Heather should exist; and Heather wonders if she should be testing her own embryos.

The two clinic doctors, Blume and Staiman, offer similar services, but as an ethicist, Blume worries about the moral implications of the new technology. Heather challenges Staiman over his willingness to destroy an embryo that might become a person like herself. He seems baffled by her concern, claiming that science makes perfection possible and that the decision should belong to the parent.


A provocative short musical addressing issues of human worth provoked by new reproductive technology and the possibility of genetic selection. The chorus of laboratory workers is an inspired device.

All the names in the play evoke botanical entities –plants, which have been engineered through genetic selection for centuries. Songs interspersed throughout trade on verbs of agency in similarly manipulating humans biologically.

Grandiose and obsessed with his personal achievements, Dr Staiman believes that scientific progress is its own justification: science should come first and concerns over the social and ethical implications should follow. Blume disagrees but passively lets Staiman proceed.


Portions published in 2001, J. Murray, Mappa Mundi: Mapping Culture/Mapping the World. The musical score is available by contacting

Primary Source

From Calcedonies to Orchids: Plays Promoting Humanity in Health Polic



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Nisker, Jeffrey A.

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