VOLUNTEER MAN is an exploration on the right of a patient with an incurable illness to choose to end his life. It is also a meditation on the “rightness” of the decision another person makes to aid in the suicide.
The story is straightforward: a white, introverted gay man volunteers to visit a black drug dealer who is dying from AIDS in a NYC hospital before the advent of life prolonging drug regimens. They come from different worlds, with different outlooks on what is “right” or “wrong,” but over time they find a common cause.
According to the New York Times, VOLUNTEER MAN is a confrontational play that is “filled with laughter but leaves you feeling [like] Mike Tyson has landed one on your chest.” The reviewer from “TimeOut New York” called it “one of the bleakest, most confrontational – and one of the best plays – I have seen in a long
Melvin – Late 30’s Afro-American
Keith – 40 year old white male
Nurse – 30’s – 50’s female
NEW YORK TIMES, SEPTEMBER 17, 1996
“Making the predictable Completely Unexpected”
Rattlestick Productions has kicked off the second season of its Emerging Playwrights Project at the Theater off Park, 224 Waverly Place, West Village, with a play that is filled with laughter but leaves you feeling Mike Tyson has landed one on your chest. Dan Clancy’s “Volunteer Man,” which runs through Sept. 29, is a daring exploration of fear, despair, AIDS and assisted suicide; the subjects are familiar, but the only cliches in this dialogue are a few held up to scathing ridicule.
The story is simple. An introverted gay white teacher (Reed Birney) is sent by his volunteer group to visit a voluble black dope dealer with AIDS (Ray Anthony Thomas) in a hospital where the only other person the patient ever sees is a taciturn nurse (Elizabeth Bove).
Over time the teacher becomes unwillingly involved in the other man’s life and then willingly in his death.
It is amazing that this cast, directed by Tracy Brigden, can build up and sustain so much tension while working from such a straightforward plot. But Mr. Thomas and Mr. Birney manage to let one see their characters transformed, as the smart, taunting, fast-talking black man becomes a terrified if manipulative innocent and the quiet, hesitant teacher takes risks he had never imagined and cannot articulate.
The end is obvious at the beginning, yet is comes as an almost unbearable surprise. Listening to their enormously intelligent, funny, combative talk, one comes to value them and admire them. It is painful at last to watch them put out the light on what was a very bright moment.
Critics’ Picks, TIMEOUT New York
Grim, corrosive and deeply affecting, Dan Clancy’s take-no-prisoners AIDS play is a skillful meditation on the attempt to die with dignity.