Review by Frances Winston
The Baby Monitor
Part of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2019
The Teachers Club, 36 Parnell Square West Dublin 1
Runs until Sat. May 11th at 7.30pm nightly Matinee Saturday 11th at 4pm
If we learned anything from Ireland’s marriage referendum, it is that many people still have misgivings about gay parents. Children were frequently used as a stick to beat the Yes side with, and the amount of misunderstanding and ignorance around the issue was shocking. This makes this play perhaps rather timely for Irish audiences, as same-sex couples are still fighting for equal rights when it comes to parenting.
Written by David Stallings, and set in Boston, this illustrates just how out-of-hand mob mentality can get, when people start enforcing their own perspectives and beliefs onto innocent scenarios.
As gay couple, Phillip and Damon (played here by playwright Stallings) revel in family life with their two-year-old son, Caleb, Damon’s cousin Claire becomes concerned over the child’s welfare. When she voices these concerns to the couple’s surrogate, events quickly spiral out of control, and lives are torn apart. The fact that Claire can’t have children herself makes her motives seem all the more Machiavellian.
This is a look at contemporary family values, and explores race and class alongside same-sex parenting. There are some difficult scenes – particularly ones where the couple have to acknowledge that many people assume that they will abuse their child because they are gay.
Although it is a work of fiction, it feels very real. We have all read reports of same-sex couples being stigmatised, or of surrogates getting too involved in the baby’s life. You will almost feel like you have read this story already.
Although I found some of the blocking rather awkward, the set design was very effective. The company have really utilised the space in the Teacher’s Club. Off the main stage they have chairs at either side for the cast to await their cues, they have a ‘kitchen’ area to the side of the set allowing characters to come and go organically, in order to make refreshments, and draped across the back of the stage are pictures that were actually coloured by the children of the 14th Street Y pre-school in New York.
All of the actors give incredibly heartfelt performances, although it is impossible to feel sympathy for Claire or Soledad, the couple’s surrogate, as you feel they know all along that their accusations are unfounded, and are merely doing it for their own end. Damon and Phillip have great chemistry and you do hope that they will get their happy ever after.
While the premise of this play is great (and necessary) it does feel at times like Stallings is trying to cram every political bug-bear he has into the work. Hence we get scenes about not ordering particular pasta or soup because the companies that manufacture them are not LGBTQ-friendly. While I see what he was trying to do, it feels somewhat unnecessary, and telegraphs much of what happens later instead of letting it unfold for the audience. The main story is enough to carry the piece. Also the character of their egg-donor, Shelly, feels very under-written. Her whole back-story is told in exposition, and we never really know why she was compelled to help the couple.
Extremely thought-provoking, this will no doubt reopen debates amongst some audience members about same-sex parental rights, and the complications of surrogacy. At 75 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and for those not familiar with the complexities and prejudices that often accompany same-sex parenting, this will prove a very educational piece.