This theater image released byThe Publicity Office shows, from left, Kerry Butler (seated), Kelly AuCoin, Russell G. Jones, Crystal A. Dickinson and Eisa Davis, in a scene from “The Call,” a co-production by Playwrights Horizons and Primary Stages at Playwrights Horizons in New York. (AP Photo/The Publicity Office, Jeremy Daniel)
NEW YORK (AP) — Adopting a baby is a daunting endeavor, made even more difficult when other countries and cultures are involved, according to Tanya Barfield in her topical new play, “The Call.”
The world premiere, a touching and intelligent co-production by Playwrights Horizons and Primary Stages, opened Sunday night at Playwrights Horizons. Under the naturalistic direction of two-time Obie Award winner Leigh Silverman, the atmosphere is informal. Life-changing realizations are interspersed with casual conversations primarily amid four longtime friends in their late 30s.
While their dinner parties include an unusual amount of discussion about Africa, and their problems with adoption and racial issues feel a little forced, the two couples are appealingly written and acted. Barfield also laces the script with tart, grounded racial observations that resonate within the surrounding pleasantries.
Annie and Peter, (Kerry Butler and Kelly AuCoin) are a married white couple fed up with years of trying to get pregnant and beginning to consider adopting a child from Africa. Rebecca (Eisa Davis) and Drea (a fiercely funny Crystal A. Dickinson), a black lesbian married couple, encourage their good friends’ decisions. They make comical offers to properly do the future child’s hair, so she doesn’t have what Rebecca lightheartedly calls, “nappy-I-got-white-parents hair syndrome.”
Rebecca and Drea have just vacationed on safari somewhere in Africa, and Peter once volunteered somewhere in Africa with Rebecca’s since-deceased brother. However, it’s a bit much when a new neighbor turns out to be from somewhere not specified — but also in Africa. The continent itself is almost like an ever-present, unseen character in the play.
Butler is understandably a little bit whiny and mopey, as Annie works through the adoption bureaucracy while continuing to recover from a serious depression over the years of miscarriages, in-vitro-fertilization attempts and fertility drugs. She becomes mired in indecision when an African toddler is offered to them instead of an infant, raising worries over maternal imprinting.
AuCoin has the innate charm to make his under-written character seem interesting, as Peter and Annie disagree over whether a toddler is too old for them. Davis is animated and warm, yet with a simmering sharpness.
Russell G. Jones gives a wonderfully moving performance as the African neighbor, an engineer named Alemu. Jones projects a peculiar yet gentle personality, along with a deep inner sorrow that’s explained near the end of the play in a subtle, harrowing scene.
The global health and economic issues Barfield raises are important and sincerely intended, even if it’s a stretch to plunk them so personally into the living room of a pair of well-meaning, liberal American yuppies.