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This baby talk is very serious

Julie Marie Myatt looks at the parenthood options people have, and the gray area between yes and no.

May 25, 2008|Karen Wada | Special to The Times

Where DO babies come from?

That question keeps getting trickier. Adoption, surrogacy and medical advances have created unexpected options for hundreds of thousands of women and men who might otherwise have little chance of starting a family.

"As reproductive technologies keep changing, the ability to choose when to have kids, to not be locked into a certain age range, gets down to what choice really means," says Michael John Garces, artistic director of the Cornerstone Theater Company. At the same time, he notes, desire can be trumped by financial demands and personal and ethical pressures.

Garces' downtown ensemble is a champion of socially active -- and interactive -- theater, which is why it commissioned a play about the complexities of what he calls "reproductive choice." Julie Marie Myatt's "Someday," which opens June 6, weaves together nearly a dozen tales of aspiring parenthood, most notably a couple's attempts to conceive through in vitro fertilization and egg donation, and a disabled woman's battle to adopt a newborn she discovered in an alley. The piece is the second of five plays in the Justice Cycle, a multiyear exploration of ways in which laws influence Angelenos.

Many of the show's themes and characters grew out of an outreach program Cornerstone developed to provide material for projects like its earlier Faith-Based Cycle, which examined spirituality and religion in L.A.

People from different communities join "story circles," sharing experiences that an author crafts into a script. Garces wrote the Justice Cycle's opener, the 2007 "Los Illegals" that was inspired by conversations with day laborers, domestic workers and immigration activists, among others. Myatt was enlisted for "Someday" because, says Garces, "Julie has the ability to capture the scope and story of the big picture and still hone in the details. That's important because the drama is inherently in those life stories and the decisions people have to make."

Myatt, who lives in Los Feliz, has been on a hot streak. Last year, her works premiered at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She is no stranger to weighty subjects or extensive reportage, having written about homelessness, Iraqi war vets and the Cambodian sex trade -- the last in an ambitious venture that took four years to complete. Even so, she has never done anything like this.

"I just had to let go and embrace that this is a different way to approach a play," she says. "I liked the assignment part of it -- 'This is what you have to work with.' I realized that my role was to facilitate an interesting play."

Early on, Myatt decided not to focus on abortion -- a significant, but polarizing subject. "Instead, it had to be about celebrating reproductive rights in L.A.," she says. "If someone wants to have a child, there are a lot of ways to pursue that in this city." She does punctuate the onstage action with readings of thank-you letters received by a locally based agency that helps women pay for abortions they can't afford. "People may fault me for not concentrating on the abortion side," Myatt says, "but the letters speak for themselves. People shouldn't have to feel shame about making a choice. It's very personal."

"Someday's" story circles included disabled women, college students, nontraditional families and infertile couples. "We would bring up topics like kids, abortion, sperm donors and egg donors," Myatt says, "and try to make it an open environment for people to talk."

A variety of viewpoints

The accounts were poignant, frustrating and funny. "A few people talked about terminating pregnancies," says Garces, who is directing. "But by and large the stories were of yearning, of wanting to have kids, or of having kids, and the choices they were forced to make or were not allowed to make" -- in many cases because of money. "A lot was dictated by economics," he says.

One circle participant who intrigued Myatt was Diana Elizabeth Jordan, an actor who has cerebral palsy. "After I met her I knew that I wanted her to be a main character," Myatt says. "She talked about dating and getting older and wanting to have kids and I just responded to her honesty and earnestness. Also, I knew that the idea of disability and motherhood is so rarely dealt with."

Jordan will play Ruth, the woman intent on taking home a baby she found. "I am single and I don't have kids and I always thought that by the time I hit my 30s I would be a mom," says Jordan, who is 44. "It's not my personal story. But it's still very personal because I had the same feelings.

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