Piece Comment

Review of Two Weeks

On the front page of this past Sunday's New York Times in its "Arts and Leisure" section, honcho book critic and culture maven Charles McGrath writes about the ho-hum, perhaps terminal stodginess of TV's PBS, while extolling the innovative energy of radio's NPR and PRI.

The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies represents public radio at its creative, enduring best. As I've noted in PRX, Salt has been recently responsible, among other things, for terrific thumbnail sketches of an insomniac movie theater concession booth worker, as well as of a caregiver who sold his house in Maine to come to the aid of an old friend on his deathbed.

True to Salt's form, Andrea Silenzi's "Two Weeks" is lugubrious yet life-affirming. Her portrait of the caregiver Laurie's relationship with an ALS ("Lou Gehrig's Disease") terminally ill patient, known as "Crow," involves Crow's being a pagan witch, as opposed to Laurie's being a Christian. Who else but Salt would have time for such a seemingly trivial but truly significant religious/spiritual conflict as is described here?

Crow is too far gone to talk. She communicates, bedridden in her modest trailer home, by using a Lightwriter machine whose electronic male voice talks back to Laurie in eerily disjointed syllables: "This past weekend I stopped eating and next weekend will stop fluids. I have two weeks to live." In the background crows caw, moodily sound-rich. Laurie the caregiver tries to convert Crow to Christianity.

Toward the end of this tightly edited cutaway Laurie has begun to care so much for her patient that she questions her inaccurate dismissal of Crow as a Satanist. Laurie looks forward to greeting her friend in Heaven, while Crow looks forward to meeting Laurie after death, reincarnated.

I look forward to other Salt Institute pieces. No one else in public radio is pushing the creative documentary envelope like Salt. Whether you call it The Hill City or The Forest City, Portland, Maine, Salt's home base, is where lots of good things are happening in PRX Land.