Playwright: Sarah Gubbins. At: Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. Tickets: www.chicagodramatists.org; $32. Runs through: Oct. 16
Sarah Gubbins paid her playwriting dues assisting other playwrights in the development of their new pieces. Now she's emerged with a voice of her own, and the intelligence of that voice is apparent in every word she writes and every moment she creates that goes from her page to a stage.
This new play, in a Chicago Dramatists and About Face world premiere, focuses on Darcy and Leigh, a young professional lesbian couple. When their best friends Nate and Margot, also a female couple, announce they are having a baby, Darcy and Leigh quickly begin wrestling with "the kid thing" themselves. Many of the pros and cons of having children are the same for all couples, gay or straight, but for lesbian couples their are additional factors to consider, among them adoption vs. birthing; selection of a sperm donor; and the role of the non-birth parent.
You probably will take sides fairly quickly as Darcy appears far more manipulative than Leigh, whose intensity emerges more slowly. The balance tips when Gubbins ramps things up by introducing a sperm donor who's an old college friend of Leigh's. Jacob quickly becomes a catalyst for the philosophical and emotional divides between Darcy and Leigh as each woman goes behind her partner's back.
The Kid Thing is character-driven rather than plot-driven, a play of talk rather than action and a nice balance of sharp comedy and (mostly) drama. Especially in Act I, the dialoguemuch of it over drinks and around the tableis witty and ultra-naturalistic, tumbling out of peoples' mouths quickly and overlapping, as directed by Joanie Schultz. Although it takes most of Act I for the actual storyline to emerge, you come to know the characters and their sometimes-unspoken attitudes very well. Gubbins's play isn't very complicated, yet it's far from simplistic. Ultimately, considering a kid becomes a wedge issue for Darcy and Leigh as it has been for countless other couples both hetero and homo.
Schultz extracts maximum value from the play with a clean and sharply-focused staging. Kelli Simpkins, who seems to thrive on playing edgy characters, is Darcy to Park Krausen's not-so-innocent Leigh. Rebekah Ward-Hays is voluptuous as Margot, who is pregnant but not showing yet, and perhaps not quite as keen on parenting as her butch partner, Nate, sweetly played by Halena Kays. The four are a wonderful mix of bodies, looks and heights and completely convincing in their roles. As Jacob, Steve O'Connell underplays to great effect, especially in his first comical scene with Leigh.
Scenic designer Chelsea M. Warren provides a detail-perfect vintage condo apartment stylishly decorated with tasteful furniture and interesting objects. Sarah Hughey's lighting and Izumi Inaba's in-character costumes warmly complete the play's contemporary look.