Taylor writes, directs play about his physician mother

A new play, The Highest Calling? by Northwestern College theatre professor Jeff Taylor, will premiere in Northwestern’s Allen Theatre April 18–19 and 23–26. Taylor is directing the production; curtain time is 7:30 p.m.

The play is inspired by the life of Taylor’s mother, Dr. Frances DeBone Taylor, one of only a few women at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the 1920s.

Pushed by her mother to pursue “the highest calling,” DeBone Taylor struggled emotionally in a profession that, according to Taylor, tortured her romantic, poetic spirit. At age 75, she confessed to her son: Medicine was the wrong career for her. “Despite her noble service that helped so many patients, Mom suffered much in a career that did not fit her temperament,” says Taylor.

Intrigued with the ways one senses and chooses calling, Taylor determined to write his mother’s story. During a 2006–07 sabbatical, he reviewed hours of taped interviews with her. He also interviewed medical school professors and students, physicians, and a diener (a person who prepares cadavers) to write the drama.

In the play, the character based on Taylor’s mother, Florence, is played by two actors. One Florence is in her 70s, newly widowed, and reflecting on whether her life of service to humankind was worth the denial of her heart’s desire to be a poet and heal with words.

The other Florence is a first-year medical student whose intellectual capacity for medical school is being sabotaged by her raw emotions. She barely survives her first gross anatomy experience when she discovers her cadaver is a young woman her age, and she is plagued by nightmares of the dead and dying.

Theatre professor Karen Bohm Barker will play the role of the older Florence. Junior Sophie Eicher, from Lincoln, Neb., will play Florence as a medical student. The 10-member cast also includes Northwestern math professor Dr. Tim Huffman in the role of Florence’s misogynistic medical school professor.

Tickets for The Highest Calling? are $5. The DeWitt Theatre box office opens April 7 for Theatre Patrons; it is open April 8–26 for the general public.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting the box office between 4 and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday or between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturday. The box office can also be reached by phone, 712-707-7098, or e-mail, boxoffice@nwciowa.edu.