A local theater aims to start a conversation about diversity and morals of science with its next play.
The Lantern Theater Company brings “Informed Consent” to Philadelphia starting Jan. 12. The play tells the story of a genetic anthropologist who researches the astonishingly high rate of obesity and diabetes found in a Native American tribe in the Grand Canyon. Jillian the anthropologist (Kittson O’Neill) tries to figure out what makes this particular group predisposed to having the disease — along with a few other things along the way.
The play’s main events are based on a true story involving the Havasupai Native Tribe in Arizona. Researchers did not disclose everything they were testing for while telling their patients that they were doing diabetes research in the 1990s.
“The subject matter is an important conversation, especially with all the advances in DNA research,” said actor Lindsay Smiling. “The ethical [issues] that aren’t talked about too much in terms of a personal story. The play doesn’t come up with an answer, but that type of awareness is good.”
Smiling plays Graham, Jillian’s illustrator husband. Although the story itself has quite a serious tone to it, Smiling and the director say the play still has its lighter moments.
“The play tackles the visibility and voice of marginalized people and the ethical quandaries of science,” said director Kathryn MacMillan. “The most amazing thing is that it does all these things with a lot of crackling energy and humor — and humanity. It captures that slice of human life.”
Part of the play’s versatility is the role of the ensemble. This group of actors take on many different brief characters and roles throughout the play while being able to carry the story.
Choosing actors for both the leading roles and the ensemble was a challenge in itself for MacMillan. As the director, she had to follow the wishes of playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer. Laufer noted the importance of having diversity within the cast — especially when it comes to the Native American voices in the story.
“We assembled a diverse ensemble and the design team,” said MacMillan. “Because this play brings up issues like race, voices being heard and white privilege, we have a lot of voices in the room. I’m super proud of that. This isn’t done enough in Philadelphia, and art leaders can do a better job of bringing many voices into a room.”
“Informed Consent” runs from Jan. 12 to Feb. 12. Tickets range from $24-$42.
Lantern Theater Company
923 Ludlow St.