Theater review by Helen Shaw. Playwrights Horizons (see Off Broadway). By Tanya Barfield. Dir. Leigh Silverman. With ensemble cast. 1hr 50mins. One intermission.
Tanya Barfield’s fidgety play The Call, a sitcomish drama about a couple trying to adopt, is full of mismatched duos: two pairs of chalk-and-cheese spouses, two “best friends” who seemingly don’t like each other. But there are poor structural pairings as well—conversations run wild with non sequiturs, and strangest of all, the climax has almost nothing to do with the play’s central tensions. The illogic is widespread enough that we wonder if the writer is playing avant-garde games—though if she is, Leigh Silverman’s straitlaced, unimaginative production hasn’t gotten the memo.
Annie (Kerry Butler) and Peter (Kelly AuCoin) want to adopt a baby from Africa. Their best friends, Rebecca (Eisa Davis) and Drea (Crystal A. Dickinson), are all in favor, although they harbor doubts about the white couple’s readiness. Brash Drea tends to pose uncomfortable questions, particularly once they learn the “baby” is nearly five years old. Barfield raises a few interesting dilemmas, like international adoption and the panic of aging, but she hopscotches rapidly through them in order to pile on any story element that could possibly have an African connection. Her baffling climax swings our attention to Rebecca’s heretofore-ignored, long-dead brother (who died after visiting the continent with Peter) just as Annie’s neighbor (Russell G. Jones) decides to hold forth on a vaguely defined African plague. It’s utterly confounding, and if it weren’t for AuCoin’s tendency to loom gloomily in doorways, I’d suspect the whole thing was a con. In fact, maybe it is. Butler’s Annie is a whiny, brittle, borderline-unstable creation; I’m going to hold out hope that it was all her fever dream, brought on by fertility drugs gone bad.—Helen Shaw