If you had the chance to save humanity from nuclear war by releasing a deadly virus that would harm half of the population, would you do it?
This is the question that is aimed to be answered in “The Trial of Doctor Fuchetti,” a one-night reading of a play coming to the main stage at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts this Saturday.
The play presents a moral quandary for the audience as the jury, which will ultimately decide whether or not to convict the fictional Fuchetti for unleashing a man-made virus in order to avoid nuclear blowout with an adversary.
Clinton resident Gaither Kodis wrote the play in 1978. Despite being awarded the Editor’s Choice Award as a one-act play by the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, “The Trial of Doctor Fuchetti” has only been staged once before, in Seattle by a theater group.
It hasn’t seen the light of day until recently, when Robert McClain, a member of WICA’s board of directors, heard about the play and wanted to read it.
Kodis is a retired attorney and a veteran Air Force pilot. His lone theatrical work — he hasn’t written anything else for the stage besides this — draws inspiration from his experiences in the courtroom and the Vietnam War.
“The easiest way for me to moralize would be the writing of a play about the problem of making a choice when you don’t know for sure what the outcome would be,” he said.
In Kodis’ play, the defendant is employed in a biological weapons laboratory and discovers the virus. While in the Air Force, Kodis said he was privy to some briefings about biological weaponry.
The other subject of the play — impending nuclear warfare — is something Kodis was familiar with as a pilot of a KC-135, a military refueling aircraft responsible for bringing fuel to B-52 bombers. Kodis lived in a bunker and had to be ready to evacuate the facility within mere minutes in the event that the call was made for the bombers to deploy their nuclear weapons on the enemy, who would in turn deploy their own weapons. Kodis said he and the others in the bunker talked a lot about the futility of their situation.
In “The Trial of Doctor Fuchetti,” the judge is a computer with artificial intelligence. It makes the determination that Fuchetti kills 50 percent of people in the world with the virus but saved the world from a nuclear holocaust that would have killed 90 percent of the population.
Kodis said the goal is to make the decision as difficult as possible for the jury.
“It all comes down to judgment and how to determine whether or not something is evil without for sure knowing what the alternative choice would have led to,” he said.
It’s not lost on him that there might be parallels between his work and the current era of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was just kind of fortuitous that it happened now,” he said about the staging of his play. “The current plague is, in effect, nature’s way of telling us we’re not doing a good job of taking care of the planet.”
“The Trial of Doctor Fuchetti” will be presented in an abridged format at WICA 7:30-8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 4. Actors will do a reading of the play, rather than a full performance with costumes and set design.
“The goal of a staged reading is to put the words first,” Artistic Director Deana Duncan said.
The actors involved include Grace Webb, Vito Zingarelli, Eric Mulholland, Jim Scullin, Bob Atkinson, George Henny and Billy Tierney. Duncan will also be stepping into a role.
“It’s rare for a theater to have the space and time to do new work, and it’s exciting,” she said.
After the show, the playwright himself will be interviewed by Peter Morton, a Langley council member and past board member of WICA.
“I don’t know that we’re right on the threshold of a nuclear standoff with Russia or China, but we were at one time,” Morton said. “Gaither’s really well qualified to write about that.”
Like others who have read the play, Morton is fascinated by the ethical dilemma that is presented.
“The question is, is he a hero or a villain?” he said of Fuchetti.
To purchase tickets to the show for $25 each, visit wicaonline.org.