Time to Go: Three Plays on Death and Dying, with Commentary on End-of-Life Issues

Hawkins, A. H. & Ballard, J. O., eds.

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Anthology (Plays)

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Dec-31-1996


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.


The editors, faculty members at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, introduce the collection by describing the process used to acquire plays written specifically for simple staged performance or reading as stimulus to discussions of end-of-life issues. A statewide script-writing contest was opened, with funding provided by the Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine. The three plays, in the order outlined above, were the prize winners.

The editors describe how the plays have been utilized for performance and discussion sessions and make suggestions as to how other groups of medical educators might use the works in raising questions about end-of-life concerns. Each piece is introduced by the playwright and followed by Hawkins' commentary, including suggested questions to facilitate discussion. The volume also contains information on advance directives, durable power of attorney for health care, living wills, and a compilation of additional resources for those interested in furthering their awareness of these anticipatory documents.


Univ. of Pennsylvania Press

Place Published





Anne Hunsaker Hawkins & James O. Ballard