Well-Born tackles the anxieties of pregnancy, now playing in Toronto
Even those of us who have never had children are acutely aware that pregnancy is difficult. It’s never all Facebook “likes” and warm, familial love; it’s hard work, fear, and even despair at times. This is particularly true in the face of the unknown: before everything is okay, all manner of things might happen. The more unknowns, the worse the fear, particularly with a missing family health history and inconclusive but worrying test results. It’s no wonder there’s a tendency to Google oneself into oblivion.
This is the premise behind Well-Born, a new play by Celeste Percy-Beauregard, presented by SoCo Theatre in association with Truth’n’Lies Theatre at Artscape Youngplace. The play is raw and frantic, sometimes very funny and sometimes deeply unsettling, much like the process of pregnancy itself.
Driven and determined Elizabeth (Sophia Fabiilli, of this year’s Fringe hit The Philanderess) is adopted, never having known her birth family. She’s been handed some unsettling and mysterious test results, but nothing’s for sure. She can’t sleep, there’s a leak in the ceiling of the nursery, and she can’t explain her fears properly to her husband Chris (Michael Musi, affably charming here), who is more excited about tiny baby sports equipment than talking about the practical aspects of parenthood. Oh, and there’s the matter of the plastic baby that’s appeared in her home, and has started talking to her.
Well-Born plays with the theatrical form, often seeming like it would be more comfortable as a film – there are a lot of quick cuts, transitions, instant mood shifts and even a meet-cute on a subway leading to a deliberately cheesy montage. The four-person cast tackles it all with aplomb, though in general I wanted a bit more polish in the midst of the frenetic rhythm, both in terms of the dialogue and in the transitions. Due to all of these demands, there is some raggedness in delivery, though it was in keeping with the general mood of the show, spiraling out of control and almost hallucinatory.
As Elizabeth discovers more and more about her past, the what-if scenarios become more and more intrusive and insistent. A highlight is Elizabeth’s imagining of three types of potential birth mother (Astrid Van Wieren, delightfully switching from saint to scapegoat), each playing to a particular need and societal stereotype. The play straddles these clichés and runs with them satirically, having its cake and eating it too, by both telling and tweaking a familiar story.
One of the strengths of the play is the believable relationship between Elizabeth and Chris as a young couple who have never really had to deal with anything so serious before. It’s clear that there’s plenty of love, affection and nerdy high-fives between them, but also that they haven’t actually had to be adults before. Because of this, I see the play hitting hard for the 20-30ish set, while my theatregoing friend who had actually had children at a younger age than these characters (and pre-Google) was somewhat less sympathetic to them than I was.
As the manifestation of Elizabeth’s fears, the “plastic baby” is fascinating, particularly in the transition between plastic doll and human representation of same (a wide-eyed and hilarious Nikki Duval). This could be intensely embarrassing (as often happens when adults play children), except for the fact that the play acknowledges this and lampoons it.
Whenever things seem about to devolve into embarrassment or distaste, the play’s always there with a wink and a nod, as if to say “you don’t really believe this, do you? How offensive and silly.” I’m not sure this completely excuses everything represented by this character, but it goes a long way toward mollifying initial reactions.
The set (Laura Gardner) does a lot with a little, mostly some cleverly used rotating panels and creative representational water that also becomes uncontrollable over the course of the show.
Though I generally enjoyed the show, I find it difficult to completely pin down my feelings on Well-Born. There’s lots of good work and a ton of potential here, and some very complicated ideas being explored. It’s also messy, lacking in solid answers, and not completely formed.
Kind of like a baby, in fact.
- Well-Born plays at Studio 109, Artscape Youngplace (180 Shaw Street) until March 6th, 2016.
- Shows are Thursday-Saturday at 8:00PM, with Saturday matinees at 2:00PM and an added 8:00PM show on Sunday, March 6th.
- Tickets are $25 ($20 for arts workers) and can be purchased online or at the door.
Photo of Sophia Fabiilli and Michael Musi by Darren Goldstein