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The Quality of Life
Two couples confront death in very different ways. Bill (Scott Bakula) and his wife Dinah (JoBeth Williams) are mourning the hideous rape and murder of their teen-age daughter and only child. They visit a cousin, Neil (Dennis Boutsikaris), who is dying of cancer and planning to kill himself before it gets too painful, and his wife Jeanette (Laurie Metcalf) who announces her decision to go with him.
On a set made as primitive as death by Francois-Pierre Couture but warmed by Jason H. Thompson's mellow lighting Neil and Jeanette are living in a yurt (Mongolian tent). It's on the site of their devastated home which they've festooned with the remains of their belongings, twisted into beautiful sculptures by the fire, Bill is a born-again Christian after the death of his daughter, finding support for his Midwestern values in the congregation of a fundamentalist church. Although the liberal West Coast cousins don't accept the Biblical salvation he spouts, they're patient with his pain and wise enough to see that the fires of hell that Bill claims await suicides describe the place he wants for his daughter's killer.
The chemistry between Metcalf and Boutsikaris is tangible. The wonderful Laurie Metcalfpicks up nuances on the simplest exchanges. She succeeds in making the rigid, wretched Bill smile. Warm and stubborn, she's the essence of unreconstructed hippie. Boutsikaris makes Neil a history and philosophy teacher who walks the walk, as well as talks the talk. Even recumbent and taking marijuana for pain, he exhibits the gentle dignity, fortitude, charisma and wry humor of a man any woman would find it unbearable to leave.
Scott Bakula's performance is so honest that his pain and resolve to survive shine through the tiring fundamentalist arguments. As Dinah, his wife who goes along to get along, JoBeth Williams' wholesome beauty and fidelity to her husband even when the marriage has become hollow illuminate what could be a thankless role.
Both couples change as the play ends. A large part of its success is due to Jane Anderson's taking the direction on herself. As a writer, she explores the issues of euthanasia and spiritual beliefs and as a director, she grounds them in an everyday world of believable characters, contrasting who they are with who they become.