ARTS · Theatre January 18th, 2016

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Funny, charming, thought-provoking—but not for me

Tarragon play about in vitro fertilization mixup engages others, but not critic

Within the Glass, by Anna Chatterton, directed by Andrea Donaldson, running at Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace to Feb. 14.

I’m not the audience for this play.

I haven’t been the target audience for shows at the Tarragon before, but I’m especially wrong for this one.

For much of its 90-minute running time, Within The Glass provides theatregoers with a comedic examination of the trials faced by, and the desires that would lead to, couples attempting in vitro fertilization. Each of the play’s four characters has a different, understandable response to the script’s provocative (and contrived, though I was not surprised to learn that it’s happened) situation, allowing them to serve as mouthpieces for different sides of an admittedly important and controversial issue.

The problem for me is not just that I don’t feel I have a personal stake in the issue, but that Within The Glass doesn’t give me one to latch onto.

The premise is established elegantly enough: two couples have recently attempted in vitro fertilization, which worked for the couple in their 30s but not for the couple in their 40s. However, the clinic mixed up the two couples’ samples, and so the baby growing inside 36-year-old Linda (Nicola Correia-Damude) is not one she shares with her husband, Scott (Paul Braunstein), but rather the child of the older Darah and Michael (Philippa Domville and Rick Roberts).

The play takes place at the upper-class home of Michael, a banking executive, and Darah, a manager at a video game company. That this is their seventh time attempting in vitro, and Linda’s first, will probably not surprise you, nor will the fact that Linda, a performance artist, and Scott, a poet, cannot afford another session.

At first Darah and Michael are simply thrilled their baby is growing, even if it’s inside Linda, and are hoping she can serve as the surrogate mother. But Linda’s hoping to keep the baby, even though the law is apparently against her, while Scott has no desire to see his wife deliver another man’s baby in the first place.

I understood where these characters were coming from, but didn’t like any of them enough to sympathize with their individual points of view. Each one comes off as somewhat insane over the course of the story, with none apparently capable of looking at the situation from another character’s point of view.

I’ll admit my personal sympathies tend more towards Darah and Michael, who clearly want a child more than just about anything in the world and have been trying unsuccessfully for six years to have one.

By contrast, when I’ve told friends, who have or want children about the play, they have an easier time than I did understanding Linda, who repeatedly emphasizes the bond created between a mother and the child she painfully carries for nine months. That Linda and Scott already have an eight-year-old daughter, or that the baby she’s carrying is not her biological child, has little impact on their opinions and made all the difference to me.

Anyway. For most of its running time Within the Glass is charming and funny. Much of the audience that I saw it with seemed to enjoy it, with a quarter giving it a standing ovation, and the other reviews I read have been kind. Playwright Anna Chatterton’s script can be said to effectively examine its central issue from multiple angles, and acknowledges that there are no easy answers.

But while I can imagine someone enjoying Within the Glass, and appreciating the discussion sparked about the ethics of reproductive science, abortion, and what leads people to become or consider themselves parents after seeing the play, I can just as easily imagine someone wondering why they had to spend 90 minutes watching a show about those topics in the first place—not incidentally because that was my reaction.

But, as I said, I’m not the audience for this play.