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A bundle of fertility issues

June 09, 2008|Charles McNulty | Times Theater Critic

Amid all the baby mania in "Someday," the second installment of Cornerstone Theater Company's multi-play Justice Cycle -- this one focused on the complicated new world of reproductive politics -- the last lines of Anne Sexton's "The Double Image" kept echoing in my mind. Filled with a mother's remorse after another suicide attempt, the poem builds to Sexton's sorrowful confession to her daughter: "And this was my worst guilt; you could not cure / nor soothe it. I made you to find me."

Such psychological foraging isn't the style of "Someday," a theatrical survey of characters in feverish search of offspring, written by Julie Marie Myatt and directed by Cornerstone artistic director Michael John Garces. The piece, which was informed by community dialogue, is far more intent on covering a broad spectrum of concerns. Everyone gets a fair shake in the company's compassionate sharing circle, but as a result, the examination is discursive, overstuffed and only occasionally inhabited in the sustained way we expect from drama.

This fertility stew contains a bit of everything: the rights of the disabled to adopt, the exorbitant cost of surrogate birth options, the irreducible weirdness of the sperm and egg donor system, the challenges faced by nontraditional families and, to a lesser degree than might be expected, the hot-button dilemma of unwanted pregnancies.

Diffuse as the play may be, there's something instructive in having all these issues bundled together. What's clear from this well-intentioned if at times textbook-like overview is that we live in an age in which individuals believe they should be able to control their fates. The notion that biology is destiny seems like a throwback to a more passive yesterday, no matter that you might go bankrupt, financially and emotionally, trying to bio-medically steer your own course.

Equally obvious is that the kind of inner emptiness Sexton painfully diagnosed in herself can still be a motivating factor for parenthood. Couples want to stabilize uncertain relationships, the chronically single would like to fill their lonely lives and prospective moms and dads who have been discriminated against are groping for restitution.

Of course, "just wanting a kid" can mean almost anything -- a desire to love and nurture, to pass along genetic material, to correct one's childhood, to affirm a partnership and, perhaps most important of all, to endow ephemeral life with a sense of purpose and continuity. Any discussion of the topic can't help taking an existential turn.

Two main plot lines run parallel in "Someday." Ruth (Diana Elizabeth Jordan), a woman of color in her 40s who has cerebral palsy, finds an abandoned infant swaddled in a sweat shirt near UCLA, and this discovery awakens her long-dormant yearning to care for a child. Sam (Shishir Kurup) and Anne (Bahni Turpin), a childless middle-class Los Angeles couple, are willing to go down any avenue to conceive, even at the risk of losing their connection to each other.

As an unmarried woman without financial resources, Ruth isn't given much hope of becoming the foster parent to the baby she found. Sarah (Tracey Leigh Turner), her pal who cracks wise from a wheelchair, advises her to have a one-night stand or, barring that, to pay a visit to a sperm bank. When Ruth asks how she will explain her pregnancy, Sarah suggests "immaculate conception."

Meanwhile, the deeper Sam and Anne are led by their messianic doctor (Peter Howard in fine scene-stealing mode) into the reproductive maze, the more lost they become. The science is patiently explained to them, but the emotional and ethical terrain comes without a road map.

Myatt, an up-and-coming dramatist whose play "My Wandering Boy" premiered at South Coast Repertory last year, takes an exploratory approach to her subject. Polemics are avoided; controversy isn't stoked. Yes, testimonials are read of somberly grateful women who have had abortions at safe and affordable clinics, but the tone is meditative, not combative.

Public policy flash points aren't as sharply conveyed as they were in Garces' "Los Illegals," the inaugural Justice Cycle offering, which grappled with immigration. And in truth, there are no epiphanies, political or otherwise, in "Someday."

What does occur is a movement toward a respectful awareness of the pros and cons of the characters' choices.

As usual with Cornerstone, the cast features a mix of professional players and community participants, and Garces' production -- attractively arrayed on Lynn Jeffries' efficient set -- nicely maintains a unified acting level. What's more, the diversity onstage is invigorating -- further confirmation that a wide palette of humanity can make dramatic conflicts more interesting.

Kurup and Turpin lend marital grit to Sam and Anne's obsessive pursuit of pregnancy, and Jordan exposes the many lineaments of Ruth's forlorn hunger to be a mom. The play's issue-ticking nature may deny them the chance to dig deep, but they're always grounded and persuasively real.

Still, the most moving aspect of "Someday" doesn't belong to anyone in particular but rather to the company as a whole. The show begins and ends with a vision of city dwellers scrambling to work, talking on their cellphones and bustling back to wherever they call home.

In the midst of all this anonymous hubbub, is it any wonder that people will do just about anything to clutch a bawling newborn to their hearts?




Where: Cornerstone Theater Company at Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays

Ends: June 22

Price: $20

Contact: (800) 838-3006

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

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