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Memorable Out of Body Experience

Stezin's latest at Charter is thought-provoking and fascinating.

Local playwright and actor Chris Stezin has written a fascinating play about a man who either gets a head transplant or a full body transplant, depending on which way you look at it. It is receiving its world premiere in a solid production at Arlington's Theater on the Run on South Four Mile Run Drive, just north of Shirlington.

"Sleeping and Waking " is set 60 years in the future. It examines issues raised by developments in medical technology as they begin to overcome some of the limits of our own bodies.

The situation of a patient — who, being of sound mind but terminally ill body, is rescued from death when a healthy body is made available from a brain-dying donor — sets up a host of fascinating questions for the playwright to examine.

It is to Stezin's credit that he identifies those questions thoroughly and faces each one honestly. For example, how would such a patient deal with the psychological blow of being in a different body? Would his talents and skills make the transition? Stezin makes his protagonist an artist who can still see in his mind just what he wants a picture to look like, but can't quite get his hands to create what he sees.

How would he maintain not only emotional but physical relations with his wife? Would he be jealous of the new body if she found it sexually attractive? Stezin's script gives depth and human frailty to both partners in this marriage.

STEZIN DEALS WITH many interesting ramifications of the ongoing revolution in surgical, prosthetic and genetic technology in a satisfying dramatic piece. He avoids the trap of turning a play into a lecture, and he resists any temptation to resolve the un-resolvable. He raises questions but doesn't expect universal acceptance of his answers.

The secret of the show as a drama rather than as a lecture is that he creates characters that are both believable and sympathetic; and then Charter Theatre's talented cast brings them to life.

Central to the play's success is the marvelously human performance of Ian Le Valley, who draws the audience into the action with direct narration that stays in character.

Le Valley's work is matched with a pair of fine performances by Susan Marie Rhea, as the wife who can cope with his physical transformation better than he can, and by Paige Hernandez as the younger woman he turns to as an escape from the pressures of his marriage.

Add Nicola Daval to the mix as his mother, who just can't cope with the conflict between her love for her son and her religious beliefs which don't stretch quite far enough to deal with the situation. Ray Fica brightens things up quite a bit as a neighbor/best friend.

Stezin is the associate artistic director of Charter Theatre, a company that specializes in developing new plays. They have been performing their plays in Washington since 1998 but began using Arlington's Theatre on the Run last season. Two of his plays have been nominated for the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play as part of the Helen Hayes Award program.

Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.