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The Call

No good deed goes unpunished

TheCall_HiRes3378_Haven’t we all invested great resources – time, money, psychic energy – into some project expecting a specific outcome, only to find that we have to accept something inferior or nothing at all? This is the premise of The Call, Tanya Barfield’s depiction of good intentions gone bad, performed by Theatre Rhinoceros. The production ably depicts conflict, trauma, loss, and a good dollop of humor with a deft touch.

Annie and Peter are a non-African-American couple. Annie has suffered miscarriages, fertility drugs, and all manner of treatments to produce a baby.  All have failed.

Enter Rebecca and Drea, African-American lesbians and their close friends. At a convivial dinner, Annie announces that she has given up on conceiving, and that she and Peter have decided to adopt a baby from Africa. So what could be disputatious about adopting a baby from Africa? Fissures appear. Rebecca and Drea each take issue with adopting from Africa, with the former being more diplomatic and the latter being more confrontational. Why would Annie and Peter adopt from Africa when there are so many available American black children? And why don’t other non-black Americans adopt them instead of African children? But then, when there is such abundance, why do black American parents not adopt them?

Enter Alemu, a black African-raised neighbor who is thought to be so strange that Rebecca refuses to eat a bundt cake he had brought as an offering to the couples’ gathering. We get to know Alemu, played with rich expression by Darryl V. Jones, and find him a lonely but caring man, estranged from his home country. Unsolicited, he delivers used shoes, soccer balls, and syringes for Annie and Peter to give away in Africa, perhaps to assuage some guilt he feels.

TheCall_HiRes2839_The notion of bringing gifts recalls an earlier conversation that the two couples had about giving out pens in Africa and whether these acts of kindness create expectation and dependency. Further, the mention of syringes adds painful connective tissue to the relationships between the couples. We learn that Peter and Drea’s older brother had been volunteers in Africa, and that Drea still has unanswered questions about what had happened there. This incident triggers exploration that may create more regret than relief.

In time, Annie wavers on adoption, finding that it would not be exactly what she had hoped for. In reacting to the saddening revelation, she moans, “We didn’t ask to solve the world’s problems, we asked for a baby.” To this, Alemu replies, “You want an African baby, but you don’t want Africa.”

Melissa Keith understands her role as Annie. She can be perky and warm, but she also draws sharp boundaries. When Hawlan Ng, well suited as the low key Peter, talks empathetically about how they have shared the experience of failed child bearing, Keith is at her strongest, asserting that the pains she’s suffered cannot be known by one whose body has not been plagued by the violence. She also delivers a brief but touching monologue about feeling that the new circumstances of the potential adoption would not allow her to experience some of the things she hoped for in motherhood.

Nkechi Emeruwa plays Rebecca and Alexaendrai Bond is Drea. Each has a personality that fills the stage, rounding out a terrific cast. Jon Wai-keung Lowe directs the The Call with good pacing and coordination. This is a strong production of a strong script, revealing nuanced intercultural relationships and complex issues concerning child adoption.

“The Call” by Tanya Barfield, directed by Jon Wai-keung Lowe. Theatre RHINO, at the Eureka Theater, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco, through March 12, 2016.
Director: Jon Wai-keung Lowe. Producer: John Fisher. Stage Manager: Michaela Byrne. Set Concept: Jon Wai-keung Lowe. Costume Designer: Kitty Muntzel. Lighting Designer: Sean Keehan. Sound Designer: Colin Johnson. Scenic Painter: Mark Vashro.

Cast: Annie: Melissa Keith. Peter: Hawlan Ng. Rebecca: Nkechi Emeruwa. Drea: Alexaendrai Bond. Alemu: Darryl V. Jones.

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