Bringing up baby


By Ken Duncum
Directed by June Stein
Abingdon Theatre Complex/Dorothy Strelsin Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Michael D. Jackson

In an ever-changing world where definition of family has broadened, Ken Duncum has written a topical play about gay parents and surrogacy. Cherish premiered in New Zealand and made its U.S. debut with Nicuís Spoon. The question of having children is a big deal. How does a surrogate mother keep her end of the bargain to hand over to a gay couple the baby she has been carrying? This is the central dilemma of Duncumís very good drama.

Two couples, one gay and one lesbian, are old friends. Tom (Alvaro Sena) has given his seed to Jess (Jessica Lions) on one occasion and to her partner, Maeve (Rebecca Challis), on another. The lesbian couple is raising Tomís two daughters. Now Tom has impregnated Jess again, this time with the arrangement that he and his partner, William (Jeffrey Danneman), will raise the newest member of the family. The two families live near by and plan on remaining integrated into each otherís lives. All sounds ideal until Jess has second thoughts and can no longer imagine turning her new baby over to the gay couple. Thus the drama is launched as the two couples go into crisis between lovers and friendships. The premise is excellent for delving into character and the dynamics of untraditional relationships, while educating us on the legalities and problems of such a modern arrangement.

The play is episodic, comprising many short scenes. Oftentimes the scenes came to an abrupt end without cliffhanger or conclusion -- the lights simply turn out to signify a sceneís end. Set designer Michael Kurtz might have come up with a more generalized unit-set idea that didnít require the lengthy interruptions between scenes, allowing director June Stein to have facilitated a smoother flow and pace. This problem also comes from the play itself and it is unfortunate, for otherwise it is a play with a lot of good dramatic tension.

The cast showed a strong commitment and were one and all believable throughout. Alvaro Sena in particular added a degree of charm to the ensemble with his warm voice and genuine friendliness, speaking with accented musicality and connecting to each of the other actors in a personalized way. Another actor in the role might have reduced the character to a shallow man-child, but Sena gave Tom a dignity and sincerity that were utterly winning.

Overall, the direction by June Stein focused on character, which was handled with care and priority. Lighting, by Steven Wolf, was basic, but included a slideshow design between scenes by S. Barton-Farcus. Costumes were a group effort, and the results suited the occasion. The play is not easy-going, and the few jokes fell flat. However, the subject was handled intelligently, and the cast gave the play a strong performance. The noble Nicuís Spoon continue to present thought-provoking work for the stage.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2006 Michael D. Jackson