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The Arts and Medicine
January 10, 2019

The Waverly Gallery—Dementia on Broadway

JAMA. 2019;321(6):530-531. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.22035

The first patient with dementia I remember meeting on clinical rotations was a charming and witty woman whose kinetic speech was a symptom of, and cover for, profound cognitive deficits. I met someone very much like her again as the curtain rose on The Waverly Gallery, a Pulitzer Prize–nominated Kenneth Lonergan play currently in revival on Broadway. “I never knew anything was the matter,” says Gladys Green, age 85, in the first of many words that will spill out of her over 2 acts. The playwright’s instructions characterize Gladys as an “immensely charming and absolutely relentless talker” who “lives for company and conversation” and “demands the full attention of her interlocutors with a cheerful and unremitting zeal that can be very wearing after a few minutes.” The opening dialogue suggests Gladys’ miscues and fumbles are a result of age-related hearing impairment, but I was fairly certain she was already symptomatic like the patient I encountered years ago. She is witty and charming, and we spend the rest of the play watching her lose her housekeys and her mind.

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