If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“The Call” Is Timely Drama at TheaterWorks

When a white couple attempts to adopt a child from Africa, issues of race identity, cultural differences and marital secrets all spill forth. Playwright Tanya Barfield addresses these topics and more in her critically acclaimed contemporary drama, “The Call”, currently on stage in a compelling production at TheaterWorks in Hartford. In what has been a rather mediocre season thus far for the company, “The Call” clearly puts TheaterWorks back on track.

As “The Call” begins, good-living yuppies Annie (Mary Bacon) and Peter (Todd Gearhart) are entertaining friends Rebecca (Jasmin Walker) and Drea (Maechi Aharanwa), a lesbian couple, at a small dinner party. There is a warm familiarity among the foursome, but there are also hints of cracks and conflicts within the friendship. The women are initially thrilled and supportive when the couple announces their adoption plans even while we learn of something that happened in Peter’s past involving Rebecca’s brother. Into the mix enters Alemu (Michael Rogers, wonderful) an older African man who lives next door and suddenly begins delivering boxes of supplies for the couple to take on their trip to Africa.

Although “The Call” explores familiar themes recalling earlier plays like Donald Margulies’ “Dinner With Friends” and Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” as well as Jane Anderson’s moving 1990 play about an ill-fated adoption, “The Baby Dance”, Barfield’s drama is a worthy successor as it probes how class divides, cultural differences and repressed secrets can rock a marriage and the strongest of friendships. The play could probably use a tougher edge with its final conclusion and there’s no doubt there’s enough “plot” here for at least another act, but the power of the drama and the performances still cannot be denied.

Under Jenn Thompson’s excellent direction, the company of actors is a finely tuned ensemble with Bacon especially moving as a woman desperate for motherhood. Gearhart brings an open masculinity and humanity to the role of Peter and both Walker and Aharanwa make for a convincing contemporary couple with some secrets of their own. Best of all may be Rogers whose telling of an old Ethiopian folktale, “The Lion’s Whisker”, is a distinct highlight early in act two. Thompson’s staging between several scenes and settings is fluid with actors taking part in all the changes with effortless grace.

Luke Hegel-Cantarella has made the most of TheaterWorks’ space with four smartly designed contemporary settings including a sleek living room and tree-lined dog park. Costume designer Tracy Christensen provides upscale, comfortable fashions for most of the characters especially Drea and Rebecca whose world views are nicely reflected in the clothing choices. “The Call”, which runs at a brisk 90 minutes including intermission, is both moving and thought-provoking sure to generate conversation long after the final curtain.

“The Call” continues through June 19 at TheaterWorks in Hartford. For ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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