Playwright: Peter Parnell
At: About Face Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: AboutFaceTheatre.com; 773-975-8150; $20-$38. Runs through: Feb. 16
This play should be required viewing for anybody contemplating, however briefly, starting a family.
Wherever you happen to fall on the male-female, gay-het, single-married, young-old, Hallmark-Handmaid's Tale spectrum in your assessment of the Reproductive Imperative, Peter Parnell's survey of marital and procreative practices raises long-overdue questions best asked BEFORE all the little Nikkis, Zachs, Jareds, Ollies and Lizzies are tasked with fulfilling the unresolved longings of their custodians.
Parnell's symposium presents us with seven daddies and mommies dwelling in a dramatic universe populated exclusively by matched couples of uniform income, social status and aspirations for their likewise interchangeable offspring ( who remain unseen, along with grannies, nannies and other nursery-industrial support staff ). First we meet Rob and Alan, then their new friends Scott and Jason, and old friends Michael and Serena. Over a year, we bear witness to the shifting dynamics engendered by their progeny's audacious intrusions on the romantic ideals at the foundation of same-sex equality opening the path to legal wedlock where two is company and baby makes, not three, but a crowd.
What soon becomes apparent is that parenthood involves more than developing a tolerance for measuring time in increments conforming to infant attention spans or playing "Hop On Pop" in the museum, that engaging in adult pastimes does not make one a responsible adult and that children can often become, not individually-autonomous human beings, but objects of contention.
Parnell is renowned for spinning novel-length yarns, but the cast assembled by About Face director Keira Fromm embraces the challenge of conferring empathy on their privileged self-centered charactersin particular, Bruch Reed as the introspective Alan, who recognizes the pitfalls of taking on ill-chosen responsibilities. William Boles' scenic design referencing fold-out books for the preschool set and a virtuoso tech team ( notably, Sasha Smith on intimacy design ) keep the action flowing smoothly for the nearly two intermissionless hours necessary for this Chicago premiere production to extend comfort and reassurance to sires, dams and sideliners alike.