Tanya Barfield is a writer with enormous vision. She takes in the whole world with one glance. In this play she takes on racism, adoption, homosexuality, US-Africa relations, not to mention the vagaries of love relationships of all sorts.
Annie (Kerry Butler) and Peter (Kelly AuCoin) are a white couple, happily married despite the frustration surrounding their attempts to have a child. They have tried all the usual routes plus a few extra bells and whistles. Now they are done and have decided to adopt. They share this news with two of their best friends Rebecca (Eisa Davis) and her partner and new wife Drea (Crystal A. Dickinson). The news is greeted with great rejoicing.
But soon Annie and Peter are rehashing the possibilities of this adoption. Turns out the baby is not here yet, and the mother, Cindy, is starting to show signs of backing out. She needs more photos and more recommendations. Add to this the idea of walking in and taking the baby from her arms, which does not appeal to either Annie or Peter, and alternative ideas begin to surface. Africa comes up on the applause meter.
Faster than a speeding bullet the direction of the adoption changes! The four are having another dinner get together where the child’s hair and its care come up in the conversation. We also learn about the friendship that Peter had with Rebecca’s brother David. The two were volunteering in Africa and knew a family who, for want of a goat, lost their daughter. In addition we find out that the new neighbor next door, Alemu (Russell G. Jones) is African, and that Rebecca has told him about the pending adoption without Annie’s or Peter’s permission.
Soon the call comes, and the child has been selected. Except that she is not 2 ½ as the agency said. She is 4. This puts an entirely new spin on the event. Annie hits a wall and things look like they may not happen at all. A four year old will always know about her real parents. She will arrive nearly fully formed, and Annie feels enormous anxiety about how they will manage with an older child.
The rest of the story plays out with everyone chiming in (including the next door neighbor). There is a surprise element revealed about Peter and David’s relationship, and we are treated to a well-crafted and full throttled argument between Annie and Peter. The tension and the struggle has turned them both into frantic and weary partners.
In the end, though, Barfield has taken on so many plot lines that we are overwhelmed. While each character is compelling, we end up unattached to anyone in particular. Although the story is about Annie and Peter, the issue at hand turns out to be the child’s age, not her race. So all the sturm and drang in that port does not serve the central question: how to adopt an older child when what you wanted was an infant?
The many issues that Barfield raises are seen too rarely in the theatre, and I admire her choice to put them up on the stage. But to put them all up there in one play makes the story unwieldy. Thus her point of view becomes watered down in order to give equal voice to all these issues. And elements that would have been very dramatic – such as telling the pregnant mother that they will not be taking her child – are overlooked altogether.
In the end this is a well-intentioned nice try that misses the mark. Barfield might want to have another look at this play. She could pick any one of the themes she introduces here and, instead of going wide, go deep. We would all be the beneficiaries.
"Thoughtful and engrossing."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"A good domestic dramedy."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
External links to full reviews from popular press...