The Kid Thing
|Desiree Rogers, Sarah Coykendall, Jaq Nguyen Victor & Kimberley Ridgeway|
Sometimes it is the unsaid more than the said that speaks the loudest. We arrive in the midst of an increasingly heated, even vicious argument between two African American women -- one chugging alternatively Scotch and wine and the other, downing equally fast her mugs of water. Quickly we begin to wonder what is behind those eye-to-eye looks that could kill and words that have sharper edges than swords. After all, is the deceased Michael Jackson and whether he is worthy of others’ grief really a reason for these two dressed-to-impress women coming almost to blows as their stunned and nervously laughing partners look on in what appears to be a evening of coupled get-together? Buttons are being pushed; and while we laugh at some of the preposterous claims and phrases being tossed back and forth in this fiery fury over nothing, we are yet not sure what buttons and why. And, we are totally unaware how many more personal hot buttons will be pumped and alarms triggered during the next two hours between these two, lesbian couples who are “just like family.” Welcome to the West Coast premiere of Sarah Gubbins’ The Kid Thing. Sit back and buckle your seat belt for a bumpy, initially wildly comic, and later not-funny-at-all ride that the New Conservatory Theatre Center has in store this evening as topics like planned and unplanned parenting, surrogacy, spousal fidelity, and old love flames are to engulf these four friends and spouses.
What is going to ensure our evening’s sojourn one that will linger for a long time in our memories and follow-up conversations is a script that sizzles with snappy dialogues, that bores unabashedly and fearlessly into topics same-sex couples are just beginning to face and address, and that adds complicating twists and turns unforeseen from one minute to the next. But what truly makes this production a first-class winner is an ensemble of actors who clearly have been pushed to new levels of excellence and daring by a director (Becca Wolff) who milks every intellectual and emotional drop possible from each of the unique and quirky personalities that Sarah Gubbins has handed this cast to tackle. Ms. Wolff then has directed a pace of sights, sounds, and scenes that literally guarantees that the evening flies by, hardly giving us a chance to catch our breath between gasps of “OMG.”
Margo, a conservatively dressed professor, and Nate, her Geek-Squad and gender-neutral partner in bow tie, are spending a long-overdue evening with PR whiz Margo (dressed ready for Wall Street in black suit, slim tie, and Ferragamos) and her blonde, bouncy partner Leigh, a counselor and quite evidently the cook and “hostess-with-mostest” for the evening. Once Michael Jackson has been laid to uneasy rest, Margot and Nate shockingly drop what Darcy calls the “the kid bomb,” announcing that Margot is pregnant and setting off a firestorm of opposite reactions from Darcy and Leigh. Pressure builds over the next few days by Leigh and the other two for hard-nosed, quick-to-say-no Darcy to consider motherhood and to join with Leigh in having a child, even doing so with the same sperm donor, who just happens to be Leigh’s and Nate’s old college buddy, Jacob (now Fulbright scholar and declared “peacemaker” by profession). But to get to a decision, there are first side deals to be made, secrets to be uncovered, and personal fears and prejudices to be surfaced.
Desiree Rogers is the smartly attired, masculine-leaning Darcy with perfectly tight braids forming cap-like on her head. Darcy does not casually converse -- ever. She instead fires words in rapid, machine-gun speeds, often as bullets targeted to win a verbal battle of intellect or to hit hard and hurt. She proudly admits, “Stress is fun; you guys should try it,” and does not at all balk at Leigh’s description, “Darcy’s brand of sarcasm is an acquired taste … like good Scotch.” Ms. Rogers creates a fortressed personality that can hide only so long the emotional battle scars of past wars underneath her so-controlled façade.
With a voice that travels upwards in octaves as she becomes excited -- which is often -- and happily parading about in cupcake-decorated apron, Leigh is quite the contrast to her partner, Darcy, in almost every conceivable dimension. Sarah Coykendall brings ebullience to Leigh that Darcy terms “a genetic predisposition,” riding a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs at speeds any Six Flags Amusement Park would envy. She moves about like a wild pinball while, with increasingly steely eyes and locked jaw, determinedly zeroes in on a targeted goal of motherhood that no one, not even Darcy, is about to deter her from reaching.
Her side accomplice is best-friend Nate, a super cute, boyish Jaq Nguyen Victor with head of hair half-shaved, half-drooping like a long sideburn. Together, they squeal on the couch in a ball of tittering excitement about the idea of having kids at the same time; and they plunge into a plan that Nate furiously puts into play with flying fingers on a cell phone. Nate, sometimes more kid than adult in looks, reactions, and demeanor, is the mate of the rather reserved, traditional, and now pregnant Margo. Kimberly Ridgeway is more often than not the adult in the room, bringing a sense of calmness that can certainly flare into eyes that can paralyze another’s moves, especially when pushed by Darcy’s relentless prods and pokes.
A latecomer to this story is lumber-sexual Jacob, a character totally entwined in ways obvious and not in its plots. This bearded, rugged-looking, Caucasian giant with teddy bear demeanor and puppy eyes has donated one of his sperm to Margo and college pal Nate and is considering sparing another to Leigh and Darcy. (“I make a 100,000 a day … That’s a quadrillion in a lifetime … I can spare one or two.”) Nick Mandracchia brings a big, soft heart in that mellow voice but also an air of confident determination behind those big, dark eyes and is not one to be dismissed or steam-rolled by someone like Darcy.
Together, this powerhouse cast knocks the ball out of the park in conveying a story and raising subjects that pertain not just to lesbians or gays, but to every modern, two-career couple considering the pros and cons of parenting, especially when that might entail a third person enabling conception. Aided by a smartly attractive set of an art-enhanced condo designed by Yusuke Soi; clever props of food, drink, and accessories that make everything appear chichi enough for a Chicago suburban couple by Prop Designer Daniel Yelen; and lighting (Sophia Craven) and sound (James Ard) that more than work well during and in between each scene (including Mr. Ard’s music that both echoes and contrasts the changing moods), the evening is all but perfect. The only flaw is an ending of the play that just plops down on the stage and sits there without moving. When the lights go down, much-deserved applause is slow to come because, in my opinion, everyone is left wondering, “You mean, that’s it?” Much applause does rise as the cast finally appears. Perhaps even though we leave a bit stunned and wondering what really will happen next to those we have met on the evening’s stage, that is the whole point -- to leave with more questions than answers to topics that are only going to get dicier as our society continues to become more diverse in its family and coupled make-ups.
Congratulations to New Conservatory Theatre, to Becca Wolf, and to this fine cast of five for an evening of riveting, non-stop dialogue that leaves its audience with much to ponder and debate.
Rating: 5 E’s
The New Conservatory Theatre Center continues its production of The Kid Thing through December 13, 2015, 25 Van Ness, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://www.nctcsf.org/2015-16-season/the-kid-thing, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling the box office at 4165-861-8972,
Photo by Lois Tema