By Karen Isaacs
Sometimes playwrights get so caught up in the issue they want to discuss that the work becomes merely a vehicle for the different points of view. George Bernard Shaw and Bertel Brecht managed to overcome this problem, most of the time.
Tanya Barfield, the talented playwright of The Call now at TheaterWorks through Sunday, June 19 had more difficulty.
The topics are certainly worthy of discussion: international vs. local adoption, interracial adoption, infant vs. older children adoption, infertility problems, ethics, morality, and uncertainty. And just to add more, a death that occurred years ago due to AIDS.
When the play opens Peter and Annie are discussing a baby soon to be born in California that the couple will adopt. But Annie is beginning to get the sense that the birthmother may change her mind. It is clear this is a couple that have wanted a child for a long time and gone through various treatments which have taken a toll on them.
In the next scene it is apparent that Annie’s fear has come to pass for the couple is now discussing other possible adoption alternatives. After a dinner with their friends Rebecca and Drea who have just returned from Africa, Annie suggests they consider adopting a baby from an African country. Many years ago, Peter had travelled extensively in Africa with Rebecca’s brother. We later learn that he died there.
As the play progresses, Drea plays the devil’s advocate. Why not adopt an African-American child? Why go to Africa? Drea and Rebecca joke about the difficulty of doing “nappy” hair and would Annie be able to do it. And there is some discussion of possible psychological or physical problems. Later Annie asks a question: Why do so few African-American couples (Drea and Rebecca are African-American) adopt?
Soon Annie and Peter get “the call” telling them that a child is theirs. It’s not the infant that Annie wanted, but a two and half year old girl. Annie is a little hesitant; she wanted the child to have no memories of another mother or life before theirs. But she rationalizes that the girl is so young that she will have no long-term memories and the possible problems may be minimal.
The problem arises when Annie shares a picture of the girl with Rebecca. Rebecca points out the child looks way older than two and a-half; she could easily be four. With that news, Annie seems to be drawing away from the adoption idea while Peter is gung-ho. While she is willing to give up on the experience of childbirth, she wants an infant so she will experience the “first tooth, the first steps.”
To add to the coincidences, their new next door neighbor in the apartment building is an African gentleman who all agree is “strange.” He seems to insinuate himself into their lives and soon he is bringing over boxes of goods –syringes, used shoes, soccer balls – that he wants them to bring with them when they go to pick up the child.
By this time, Peter has reluctantly accepted that Annie does not want to adopt. They are abandoning their dream of having child. Annie is tired of the processes either to conceive or adopt.
The play wraps up with Peter telling Rebecca some information about her brother’s death that he had withheld; he wasn’t with the man at that time.
The characters in this play are mouthpieces not flesh and blood people. Annie, played very well by Mary Bacon, is a woman with “baby envy” – she wants a baby, not just a child. She is every woman who has gone through the emotional turmoil of hormone treatments and IVF. Bacon shows Annie’s reservations; you can see on her face the exact moment when she begins to really question the idea.
Peter is the positive force, sure that whatever the difficulties they can overcome them. Todd Gearhart gives us the “can do” spirit. He is baffled when his wife wants to back out.
Drea and Rebecca are also mouthpieces. Drea, played by Maechi Aharanwa, is the tactless friend who says anything that comes into her head. She doesn’t even understand that some questions should not be asked and some comments should not be made. Rebecca played by Jasmin Walker is the voice of reason; it is she who brings up some of the problems of both international adoption and adopting an older child, such as the honesty of the agency’s information and the problems that may occur in a child bonding. Walker clearly portrays that rational thought, except when it comes to her brother and his death.
Michael Rogers plays Alemu, the next story neighbor. Rogers uses his body effectively to show us this man who still feels out of place in America and is hesitant about himself. He is the one encouraging Annie and Peter to go forward.
Director Jenn Thompson who has been working with this new play for a number of years, she directed the 2013 off-Broadway production, certainly makes the most out of the script. It is hard to tell if my response to the characters is due totally to the play or a combination of the play and the actors. Luke Hegel-Cantarella has created a set that can move easily from Peter and Annie’s apartment to a park, the nursery and other locations.
Some will find The Call and emotional play but I for one, found it too much like a debate with point and counterpoint.
The Call is at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St. in downtown Hartford, through Sunday, Feb. 14. For tickets and information call 860-527-7838 or online at theaterworkshartford.org
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