Act 39

A Play Based on True Events
by Rob Mermin

What do you do when your best friend, dying of cancer, asks you to help end his life?

Rob and Bill—two old bachelors and best friends—live in neighboring apartments. They play catch, tell stories, drink beer, and banter about life, love, women, magic, metaphysics, circus, films—and death. When Bill is suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer, he asks Rob to help him utilize Act 39, Vermont’s medical aid in dying law. At the heart of the story is the soulful and humorous nature of Rob and Bill’s friendship, juxtaposed with Rob’s intensely personal dilemma wanting to honor Bill’s request, but being confused and conflicted. The play exposes the vulnerability of the human spirit when facing mortality head on. As Bill’s plans unfold with both clarity and humor, we witness the dramatic final moments leading up to his death.

Vermont’s Patient Choice at End of Life Law (Act 39) was enacted in May 2013. It allows a terminally ill adult patient to request a prescription for medication to be self-administered for the purpose of hastening death. As of this writing (2024), ten states have passed similar laws. Death with Dignity remains a sensitive and timely subject.

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About the Playwright: Rob Mermin is the founder of Vermont’s Circus Smirkus. He ran off to join the circus world in 1969, after training in the art of mime with life-long mentor Marcel Marceau. Rob’s awards include Copenhagen’s World Star-Time Gold Clown; Russia’s Best Director Prize at The International Festival on the Black Sea; The Lund Center’s It Takes a Village Award; the Vermont Arts Council Award of Merit, and the 2008 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Podcast interview with the author:

Click/tap here to listen

“This remarkable interview, with its deep humanity, thoughtfulness, and even humor, describes and models an approach to life as well as death. Rob’s comments on friendship, sorrow, and mystery prompt reflections on what we value and how we live our lives, as well as how we depart. Rob’s voice as he tells this story is clear and singular, and I’m not sure that anyone else could have presented these events with such simplicity and grace.”
— a listener, Last Chapter podcast

Act 39 Reviews

  • June 30, 2023 World Premier of Act 39 by Tom McKone – Welcoming Joy and Accepting Loss  View/download PDF
  • June 23, 2023 VTDigger – A play named for Vermont’s aid-in-dying law meditates on what death can teach us about life  View/download PDF
  • June 20, 2023 Burlington Free Press – Vermont play ‘Act 39’ asks ‘What do you do when best friend asks you to help him die?’  View/download PDF