San Francisco, California, USA to the World online- A thoughtful plan to arrange an assisted suicide for a senior woman when her dementia enters late-stage goes awry when that person “forgets” about her pact about it with family. Sad? Funny? Bewildering? All of these, would seem to apply, as San Francisco Playhouse presents Ruben Grijalva’s thought-provoking and thoughtful Shoot Me When streaming on demand Saturday May 1, 2021 through May 22nd.
Wonderful cast. Great story. Excellent production. The cast features Blythe de Oliveira Foster, Dan Hiatt, Lorri Holt (as “Jackie”), and Melissa Ortiz. As SF Playhouse describes the show, “Jackie has dementia. She also has a pact, carefully crafted with her two daughters, for how to depart on her own terms when the time comes. Well, the night has arrived, the girls have gathered, the plan is in motion—but Jackie forgot the pact. Shoot Me When… is a heartfelt and humorous exploration of love, responsibility, and finding joy in life’s challenges.”
A Note from Ruben Grijalva
“I first heard the sentiment that inspired this play expressed as an irreverent joke. Surely this sweet woman with the salty demeanor intended “shoot me when I can’t drive anymore” not as an earnest request, but as a wry declaration of values; a punchy way to say, “this is who I am.”
But, “who I am” is a slippery concept. Like the legendary Ship of Theseus, which has its planks replaced one by one over time until none of the original material remains, our tastes, ideas, dreams, and the very cells that give rise to them are invariably swapped out over time. Some of these swaps we choose, but all too many are imposed upon us.
Dementia is non-consensual swapping at its most agonizing. It’s as though, instead of replacing the ship’s rotting old boards with sturdy new ones, they transpose the rudder and the main mast. While the Ship of Theseus thought experiment asks whether an object can be considered the same entity after the seamless replacement of its parts, dementia forces us to ask whether our loved one can be considered the same person after the chaotic reconfiguration of their very identity.
It was only after her cognitive decline was evident that I found out the sweet and salty woman hadn’t been entirely joking. Maybe driving wasn’t the line, but she had made clear that there definitely was a line: a minimum threshold of agency beyond which she would rather not continue. I found this desire fully sympathetic, and yet, I watched helplessly with everyone else as she sailed miles beyond the line, across a chasm to some foggy distant shore. A wish, no matter how adamantly expressed, is not a plan.
The difficulty of enacting such a plan provides the drama of this play. My aim is not to advocate that anyone make such a fraught choice, but to ask whether we should each be able to make it for ourselves. And, if so, to which self should the choice belong? If my future self is not meaningfully me — if the ship isn’t the same ship — what do I owe that new person? If I toss a bottle across the chasm and wait, will they even find it, let alone remove the message, comprehend it, and agree that they are a person who should not be? “
Ruben Grijalva is an award-winning San Francisco-based playwright and filmmaker. His short plays
include Full Steam Ahead and the PianoFight Short-Lived winning All The Worlds Are Stages. His full-length plays include Foresight, Anna Considers Mars, and the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award-winning Value Over Replacement. Grijalva is a new father. We can only imagine the impact of growing from couple to family could have had on the scripting of this work.
Directed by SF Playhouse’s co-founder and producing director Susi Damilano, a five-time recipient of the Excellence in Theatre Award for Principal Actress in a Play from the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, this production promises to be memorable. No pun intended! Please do join us.
Blythe de Oliveira Foster as Gabrielle
Dan Hiatt as Len
Lorri Holt as Jackie
Melissa Ortiz as Ariel
May 1 – May 22, 2021
On-demand video streaming at sfplayhouse.org (tickets required)
For tickets or more information, the public may contact the San Francisco Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596, or online at
All actors appear courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association. Photos courtesy of SF Playhouse, used with permission, with Photo Credit to Wera von Wulfen (SFPH) and Jessica Palopoli
ABOUT SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE
Founded by Bill English and Susi Damilano in 2003, San Francisco Playhouse has been described by the New York Times as “a company that stages some of the most consistently high-quality work around” and deemed “ever adventurous” by the Bay Area News Group. Located in the heart of the Union Square Theater District, San Francisco Playhouse is the city’s premier Off-Broadway company, an intimate alternative to the larger more traditional Union Square theater fare. San Francisco Playhouse provides audiences the opportunity to experience professional theater with top-notch actors and world-class design in a setting where they are close to the action. The company has received multiple awards for overall productions, acting, and design, including the SF Weekly Best Theatre Award and the Bay Guardian’s Best Off-Broadway Theatre Award, as well as three consecutive Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards for Best Entire Production in the Bay Area (2016-2018). KQED/NPR recently described the company: “San Francisco Playhouse is one of the few theaters in the Bay Area that has a mission that actually shows up on stage. Artistic director Bill English’s commitment to empathy as a guiding philosophical and aesthetic force is admirable and by living that mission, fascinating things happen onstage.” San Francisco Playhouse is committed to providing a creative home and inspiring environment where actors, directors, writers, designers, and theater lovers converge to create and experience dramatic works that celebrate the human spirit