You can stop rubbing your eyes anytime now. That was no mirage. That was Michael Jackson in the flesh, it was, inexplicably brought back to life amid nothing more than some innocent chatter about his kids and his suitability for parenthood. And if you think that’s something, get a load of the direction the talk’s about to take: Margot and her partner Nate are two months pregnant!
Suddenly, the King of Pop has lost his place at this upscale Chicago dinner table as hosts Darcy and Leigh explode with shock and speculation — this thirtysomething foursome of old friends has plenty to talk about, and as lesbians, their patter is about to take a curiously introspective turn.
But lesbian parenting itself is hardly a curiosity. Gay parents share the same joys, conflicts and anticipation as their straight counterparts, and donor sperm insemination (Nate and Margot’s method of choice) makes the experience all the more immediate.
That’s why Sarah Gubbins’ The Kid Thing, current MOXIE Theatre entry, confuses as often as it enlightens. It’s a talky little piece (in a good way), with rapid-fire (if occasionally ingratiating) dialogue that at once spawns character insights and ideas for public debate.
The problems start when Gubbins makes the play about everything but the kid — the pregnancy is merely the anchor for revelations about the others’ lives, much as a lowly food addiction or drug habit might fuel them.
Give director Kym Pappas all the credit for coaxing some highly spirited turns here; meanwhile, give Gubbins a demerit or two — or five — for holding the unborn baby hostage to no avail.
Kids, thanks very much, aren’t things.
Whatever you do, don’t listen to anything stupid Darcy says. She’s a runty, power-mad PR exec with the mouth to back it up, wearing her anger issues on her sleeve the way an inmate sports a white supremacist tattoo. She’s the holdout in the conversation even as Nate and Margot revel in their good news and Leigh starts to adopt their tune, hoping to plan for a family. Darcy promptly eschews the idea of pregnancy with Leigh (please also note that she’s having an affair with Margot).
Enter sperm donor Jacob, with whom Leigh and Nate have planned a meeting with Leigh and Darcy about the possibilities. He lives with his mom and once had a college crush on Nate, which illustrates his level of commitment — from there, new tensions between Leigh and Darcy involve Leigh’s very hetero moves on Jacob and an enormous revelation on Darcy’s hesitancy to have kids. Darcy is left in tears, the tattered vestiges of her bigmouth defenses at her feet.
It all comes down to the kid, not the person who’s having it and certainly not the person… who doesn’t want it.
Gubbins has a nice way of simplifying an otherwise thorny question — that of procreation without a male relationship in the picture. Her sense of anecdote is the key, and she exploits it on a number of occasions (dig the excellent Katherine Harroff’s toothy, tomboyish Nate when she intones “the feeeee-tusss” as the family’s reference for the kid in waiting; watch Connor Sullivan’s lanky Jacob and his hare-trigger physicality when Darcy insists she doesn’t need his services).
But she doesn’t help her cause as she builds her stereotypes (among them one butch, one fem and one breadwinner per couple) — and anyway, what does any of her script have to do with the center of attention (i.e., the baby)? Ask any pediatrician, any expert in family law, any repeat expectant mother and any first-time father: It all comes down to the kid, not the person who’s having it and certainly not the person (like Darcy) who doesn’t want it. Any other approach diminishes the child’s critical role in household unity; for every problem that divides a mom and dad, there’s a kid who has the solution if we’d but listen. Gubbins loses sight of this early on, drawing Nate and Margot’s bundle of joy as the vehicle of change rather than its agent.
That’s pretty aggravating in the face of Jo Anne Glover’s turn as Darcy. Glover is as good as I’ve ever seen her, and I was aching for her character to crash and burn amid anyone else’s faults. Sarah Karpicus’ Leigh and Anna Rebek’s Margot play some interesting contrasts as the fems — how ironic that Margot, as the pregnant girl, is also the most taciturn.
Sarah Mouyal’s set is nicely appointed, with postmodern art uncluttering the walls and a handsome (if sparse) view of Chicago’s skyline (I’ve never thought of the Sears Tower as particularly phallic, but maybe the play’s subject matter begs reconsideration). Chris Renda’s one-note light design is in order, while Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ costumes and Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound beckon us into the moment.
Gubbins incorporates a few pop references to the Olive Garden, Rachel Maddow and, of course, Michael into her script. They’re in-jokes, pure and simple, designed to color a story that already stoops to an invective swirling about the fetus, the story’s least culpable party. I suppose I recommend this show even amid its philosophical unsoundness, but only because there’s some decent subtext as Glover and Harroff carry the day.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of Nov. 19. The Kid Thing runs through Dec. 11 at MOXIE Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. in the College Area. $30, discounts available. 858-598-7620, moxietheatre.com.