Answering "The Call"
By Geary Danihy
There’s a lot going on in The Call, which recently opened at TheaterWorks, perhaps just a bit too much. This two-act play by Tanya Barfield has, in a mere 90 minutes (with an intermission, no less), enough sub-plots to fill a season’s worth of a television series, and if you don’t pay close attention to the opening scene (which may be hard to do), the last few minutes of the play may have you scratching your head. In fact, even if you do pay attention there may still be a bit of head-scratching.
As directed by Jenn Thompson, who seems, at least with this production, to have a penchant for the “frenetic” school of line delivery, the opening scene, which finds Annie (Mary Bacon), an artist, and her husband Peter (Todd Gearhart) -- it’s never very clear what he does for a living -- hosting two of their friends, a black couple, Rebecca (Jasmin Walker) and Drea (Maechi Aharanwa), also an artist. Now, here’s where you have to pay close attention, for in the exposition, delivered in rapid-fire fashion, we learn that Peter and Rebecca’s brother once did volunteer work in Africa...and Peter subsequently died. Okay, file that away -- there will be a test.
We come to learn that Annie and Peter are considering adopting a baby but, apparently (again, it’s a bit difficult to follow, what with the actors biting off each other’s lines), the deal falls through, which leads the couple to consider adopting an African child. Now, you might say to yourself, I can sit back and watch the play unfold -- I know what it’s about, I know what the stakes are, but wait a minute -- Annie and Peter have a new neighbor, Alemu (Michael Rogers), who just happens to be an African immigrant. He will introduce another plot line, part of which involves syringes that will become central to the fireworks at the end of the play -- a centrality that you might just question, because you thought the play was about a white couple, and adoption, with the added complication that the adopted child will not only be black but from Africa and, not just a baby but two-and-a-half years old -- no, wait a minute, from a bit-mapped photo the kid looks like she’s at least four years old.
Barfield, a Pulitzer-Prize nominee for Blue Door, seems to have had problems deciding on who wants what, i.e., what the central conflict of the play should be or, in other words, what the audience should care about. This is not to say that there aren’t some compelling moments during the evening. Annie and Peter’s confrontation in the second act about the frustration of unsuccessfully attempting to conceive a child and the subsequent decision to adopt is electric, and Alemu’s African story, which opens the second act, is a deft piece of acting on Rogers part, but Barfield has chosen to work with too many different colored pieces of yarn and her attempt to knit everything together just doesn’t work, basically because the “reveal,” or multiple “reveals” at the end of the play don’t really have anything to do with what the audience is supposed to care about, so the final vignette, which has Annie and Peter in the bedroom they’ve prepared for their adopted child, falls flat because it is essentially unmotivated.
Okay, I said there would be a test, so, The Call is about:
- Lesbian relationships
- Artistic envy and frustration
- Africa’s suffering multitudes
- Can a white woman truly know how to fix a black girl’s hair
- Trendy lesbian art
- How/why did Rebecca’s brother die
- How fast can an actor can deliver lines
- Oh, yes, will Annie and Peter finally adopt a child
- All of the above
The Call runs through June 19. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to www.theaterworkshartford.org