TheaterWorks is currently presenting Tanya Barfield’s spiky, engrossing, but not completely fulfilling play, “The Call,” in a first class production. Skillfully directed by Jenn Thompson and featuring a flawless cast of five performers, “The Call” brings up an array of topics relating to adoption. In this play, a married couple is trying desperately to adopt a baby and hit more than a few snags in their journey. Tanya Barfield has a gift for creating intriguing characters and giving them dialogue that feels absolutely right. This play was first produced at Playwrights Horizons and is here making its New England premiere. And while “The Call” isn’t completely satisfying, it certainly is expertly written and performed and it is definitely worth a trip to TheaterWorks to see it.
The play opens at a dinner party thrown by Annie and Peter (the excellent Mary Bacon and Todd Gearhart, respectively) who have invited two of their best friends, a lesbian couple (perfectly enacted by the marvelous Maechi Aharanwa and the regal Jasmin Walker), to their home. In addition to the topic of adopting a baby, there is much talk about Africa. Not only do Annie and Peter find themselves attempting to adopt a child from Africa, but their next door neighbor (the peculiar, humorous, but haunted Michael Rogers as Alemu) is from Africa and is continually invading their lives. Not to give too much away, but there are a number of secrets from the past relating to Africa that are unearthed and the play can sometimes feel (especially towards the conclusion) a bit overstuffed.
Still, “The Call” is always consistently interesting and director Jenn Thompson has assembled a wonderful cast. In the leading roles of Annie and Peter, Mary Bacon and Todd Gearhart are pretty close to ideal, and their relationship, including marital problems, feels completely genuine. Playing Annie, Mary Bacon conveys a number of emotions all at once and she is able to navigate her way through her character’s sometimes wildly changing moods. As her husband Peter, Todd Gearhart is steadfast and supportive and enormously sympathetic. This couple goes through many difficult situations and scenes and these two actors bring a glowing honesty to their performances.
As their best friends, Drea and Rebecca, Maechi Anaranwa and Jasmin Walker, respectively, are equally good. Playing Drea, Maechi Aharanwa is a bundle of humor and is certainly not afraid to say what is on her mind, whatever the consequences. Jasmin Walker, as Rebecca, treads a bit more lightly around subjects and proves to be a figure of strength and compassion, even when things appear to be falling apart. Portraying a recently married couple, Maechi Aharanwa and Jasmin Walker’s bond rings absolutely true and real and is entirely refreshing.
Portraying the fifth character in “The Call,” Michael Rogers, as next door neighbor Alemu, definitely makes a strong impression in the play. In the opening scene in the second act, Alemu reveals much of his life and background to Annie and this actor is able to create a character both scared and oddly hopeful. Michael Rogers’ performance as Alemu does not fit comfortably in any cookie-cutter type of person I’ve ever seen in a play and it is this uniqueness that makes his character so memorable.
Director Jenn Thompson stages “The Call” on a variety of locales, all expertly designed by set designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella. And while Tanya Barfield’s play could probably use a couple more scenes in the second act to fully flesh out the dynamics of the show, the production of “The Call” at TheaterWorks is always topnotch. “The Call” is most certainly an unusually striking play and, while not perfect, it is unafraid to bring up a number of difficult topics and is therefore strongly recommended.
“The Call” continues performances at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through June 19, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.theaterworkshartford.org or call the box office at 860-527-7838.