A "Portable" Play by Dr. Richard Selzer Will Premiere at Yale
“Diary of an Infidel,” a short, one-act play adapted from a story by surgeon-writer Dr. Richard Selzer, will be performed in the McNeill Lecture Hall of the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel Street, on April 24 at 8 p.m. and April 25 at 2 p.m.
Professional actors, led by film, stage and TV actor Bruce Altman, will join doctors and academics from the Yale community to give a reading of the play, which is based on the lead story in Selzer’s book “Taking the World in for Repairs.”
Sponsored by the Yale Elizabethan Club, the play is free and open to the public.
The story concerns a visit by Selzer to a Benedictine monastery on the island of San Giorgio across the bay from Venice. The character of Selzer is split into two separate roles, played by different actors: one is the offstage writer/narrator who delivers voice-over stage directions and self-reflective commentary as a complement to the action on stage. The other “Selzer,” played by Altman in this production, is the protagonist of the drama, the author/surgeon who comes to the island to write without distraction and becomes preoccupied with the rigid asceticism of the Benedictine order. The dialogue between Selzer, the surgeon, and the monks who are his hosts is a dialectic of science and faith, flesh and spirit, mediated by Selzer the narrator.
The actors will be in simple costumes but will read their lines from the script. The New Haven production will be directed by film and stage director/producer Margarett Perry, whose production of Brian Dykstra’s “Clean Alternatives” received the 2006 Fringe First Award at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Yale physicians Dr. Thomas Duffy and Dr. Frank Bia will play the Benedictine monks.
Scriptwriter and producer Edwin Lynch cut the script from the whole cloth of the story, not adding a word or deviating in any way from Selzer’s prose. A veteran producer of documentaries that have aired on PBS and played in commercial movie theaters, Lynch sees “Infidel” as a new kind of theatrical experience, which he describes as “literature on its feet.” With a pick-up cast performing “on book” and negligible production costs, the play can travel anywhere, providing performers and audience alike with a seamless immediacy that eludes so many contemporary stage productions, notes Lynch.
Known by many as the “Dean of Medical Writers,” Selzer took up the pen while still holding the scalpel — a feat, which, if still rare, was unheard of at the time. His critically acclaimed fiction and essays draw on his experiences as a doctor and his writing has inspired generations of medical students. He is the author of more than a dozen books, among them: “Rituals of Surgery”(1973), “Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery” (1976), “Letters to a Young Doctor”(1982) and “Raising the Dead: A Doctor’s Encounter with His Own Mortality” (1993). He has earned a National Magazine Award, an American Medical Writers Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He retired from his surgical practice and clinical professorship at the Yale School of Medicine in 1985 to devote himself to writing full time.
Edwin Lynch earned an M.F.A. in film from New York University. He worked as a cinema vérité cameraman on “Woodstock” and “Hearts and Minds,” and as director of photography on “Marjoe” — a trifecta of Academy Award-winning films. Subsequently he joined with Robert Geller on the acclaimed “American Short Story” series for Public Television, serving as producer and director of photography. His new play, “Revolt of the Castrati,” was read last year at the Judson Memorial Church in New York City, where he is guest artist.
Bruce Altman is an accomplished film and television star who made his film debut right after graduating from Yale School of Drama with a lead role in the movie “Regarding Henry.” He has had notable parts in such films as “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday,” and “Matchstick Men.” Often cast as a lawyer or doctor, Altman has appeared in many TV series and movies, among them, “Touched by an Angel,” “The Sopranos,” “Recount”(the HBO dramatization of the 2000 Presidential election) and several episodes of “L.A. Law.”