Saturday, October 24, 2015

Meticulously written, directed and performed THE CALL at Dobama

Tanya Barfield, author of THE CALL, which is now on stage at Dobama Theatre, didn’t want to write the play.  She stated in a December, 2012 interview, “Without realizing what I was doing, I pointedly and stubbornly refused. . . What I knew—what I was known for—were plays about the African-American experience through history.  I did not want to write a contemporary play, a play close to me, a play about adoption.”

She went on to say, “THE CALL is about adoption, yes.  It’s about race, midlife, Africa and marriage.  It’s also about taking a leap, as terrifying as it may be.  It’s about stepping outside your comfort zone and committing to something bigger than yourself.  It’s about recognizing the power of change and then actually doing it.  About being an active member of society—the global society—and improving upon it.  It’s about hearing the call to be something more, and then taking that call.  As uncomfortable as it may be.  I didn’t want to write this play.  But I’m certainly glad I did.”

From the comments heard following the opening night at Dobama, the assemblage certainly agreed.  Discussions ranged from the way the play ended, to the topics it contained, to the quality of the production.

What was all the fuss about?

Tanya Barfield is one of a new breed of contemporary playwrights who writes  well-crafted plays with naturalistic language.  The plays have a clear theme.  They have a structure of beginning, middle and end that exposes the audience to the topic at the start of the show, develops the conflicts and potential resolutions as the play goes along, and revisits the topic and resolves it at the end. 

The language is real.  The format reflects actual communication patterns.  Speeches overlap, language reflects modern day usage.  It’s like listening in on a family dinner, a friendship get-together.  The humor is natural, the emotional reactions real. 

The performers don’t act, they are actual living people, not created beings.  No feigning or “drama” here, the people are real, discussing real issues in real ways.

The topics in THE CALL reflect Barfield.  A bi-racial gay woman, raised in a loving home by a Caucasian mother and an African-American step dad, she always felt that “from the time I was a baby, ‘political’ was stamped on my forehead and became the fabric of my identity.” 

In THE CALL, Annie and Peter, a young White American married couple, have been trying for years to become pregnant.  Their natural and artificial attempts have led to no positive outcome, leaving Annie emotionally on edge.  They decide to adopt.  After much soul-searching, they set their sights on an African child, no more than eighteen-months old.   That way, they aid a child in need, get to form the child’s psyche, and avoid dealing with detachment disorder and the re-teaching of language and cultural attitudes.

Their friends, Rebecca and Drea, African American lesbians, based on their visit to Africa and life experiences, encourage the decision. The women even offer to help the couple by doing the child’s hair, thus avoiding the ”nappy-I-got-white parents hair” syndrome. 

Peter and Rebecca have known each other for a period of time as her now deceased brother and Peter once volunteered together in Africa.

As the couple works through the adoption bureaucracy, Annie is still recovering from depression from the years of miscarriages, fertility drugs and in-vitro-fertilization.  After the excitement of finally hearing that their adoption has been approved, complications enter when the child offered doesn’t fit their age requirements.

A series of confrontations with Rebecca and Drea, the revelation of the process of Rebecca’s brother’s death, and a young African moving in next door, who reveals vital information, add further wrinkles to the tale.

As evidenced by the buzz following the show, the conclusion should incite much conversation. 

Matthew Wright has meticulously directed the Dobama production.  Every aspect of the show is clearly articulated in design and performance.  The naturalistic writing style is adhered to, the entire play is realistic in sound and visual presentation.

The cast is perfection.  Ursula Cataan develops an Annie who is on-edge, hopeful, frustrated, and real.  She isn’t performing a role, she is Annie!

Area newcomer, Abraham Adams, is a welcome addition to the local stable of young and talented actors.  His textured development of Peter makes the character into a sensitive, intelligent man who wants to support his wife, but also has needs of his own that must be deal with.  The scene in which he tells Rebecca the “real” tale of her brother’s death is heart-wrenching.

Carly Germany, as has come to be expected from this talented actress, is character perfect as Rebecca.  Her love for Drea, her bitterness toward her brother’s death, her attempts to cover stress with humor, are all well developed.

Corlesia Smith has a wonderful way with humor.  She doesn’t force it, it just comes naturally.  Using vocal tonations, facial expressions and body language, she keys and emphasizes the right attitude to get the desired responses.  Her Drea provides the needed interjection of humor into what could be a drama-heavy script.

Nathan Lilly effectively creates in Alemu, the new African neighbor, a pivotal character whose presence makes a major impact on the play’s dénouement. 

Laura Carlson Tarantowski creates a series of sets on the small Dobama stage that helps create the proper mood for the play’s setting and actions.  Yesenia Real-Rivera’s props help flesh out the needed reality.  Zachary Hickle’s costume designs are era and character correct.  The mood of the play is set from the start by the use of African-style music as the curtain-raiser and scene bridges.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  THE CALL is one of those special theatrical performances that encourages thinking and contemplation, while adding just enough humor to avoid depression.  The topic is contemporary, the script is meticulously written, the production well staged, the acting of the highest level.  This is a must see production!

THE CALL runs through November 15, 2015 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Dobama’s next show is PETER AND THE STARCATCHER from December 4 through January 5, 2015.  Tickets for the show are selling quickly.  If you intend to attend, call for seats now.  To read my review of The Shaw Festivals’ production of the show, go to