Annie and Peter, a white married couple, haven’t been able to conceive a child of their own so they decide to adopt a child from Africa. Rebecca and Drea, a newly married African American lesbian couple are Annie and Peter’s close but “only black friends” who enlighten the couple with straight talk about the challenges of being white parents to a black child.
Tanya Barfield’s The Call, performed by the University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, and directed by Eleanor Holdridge, is a contemporary conversation about some of the most taboo but right-on-time topics in American society today. Race and cultural stereotypes, international adoption and cross-cultural parenting, The Call confronts some of our deepest and sometimes darkest attitudes about family and friendship as it courageously shines a bright spotlight on the universal need for love.
The beautifully appointed, urban chic living room of Annie and Peter is the West Elm, high-end setting for a series of heated after-dinner talks as Rebecca and Drea force Annie and Peter to consider some of the potential problems of parenting a child from Africa. In sometimes wickedly funny banter, the couples deal with everything from how Annie is going to deal with black hair to giving the child a culturally correct name. That doesn’t mean Annie’s waspy Anglo choice, “Emma Elizabeth” either, if it’s a girl; and Annie confidently retorts that there are YouTube videos to help her deal with the black hair problem.
Drea, confidently played by Alicia Grace with in-your-face realism, gives a fine performance as the main provocateur to Annie and Peter’s high calling. She spares no punches questioning Annie’s motivation to adopt internationally when there are so many African American orphans believing, “White folks can’t deal with adopting black kids from here because of guilt over slavery.”
The Call digs into psychic motivations, subliminal reservations, and the aspirational limitations that complicate the desire to make a difference by helping those less fortunate. It reveals attitudes of blind sighted cultural superiority but the story line ultimately sees the light through the power of an old African folk tale. Jamaal Amir McCray gives a dramatically spirited portrayal as Alemu, Annie and Peter’s new African next door neighbor, who delivers that wisdom straight from The Motherland. Alemu becomes a central character when Annie gets “the call” from the adoption agency and she decides not to accept a child who is much older than the infant they had hoped for. Jacqui Joke Hammond, vocal coach, might need to work with Jamaal a bit more, however, on his African accent that was totally charming but sounded more Eastern European than Sub Saharan.
The vulnerability that comes with the possibility of not being accepted as birthmother; the lack of courage to pursue the primal desire to parent; and the disappointments and mixed emotions that come with friendship are universal themes that create palpable dramatic conflict. However, the playwright doesn’t completely resolve them. The play feels brief to adequately develop the heavy themes in The Call and it seemed as if more time was needed to explore them. But perhaps this is the hidden strength of The Call – it’s not over when it’s over. It leaves you with unanswered questions that you still need to mull over, encouraging lingering conversations well after one leaves the theater.
The actors in this ensemble work very well together and give first-rate performances delivering Tanya Barfield’s contemporary dialogue with balanced energy and exceptionally fine acting.
Rachel Grandizio played Annie with likable neurotic anxiety and Theo Couloumbis as Peter is a natural actor who sensitively approached an intense climax scene with Annie without taking himself too seriously. Summer Brown as Rebecca gave a standout performance as Annie’s best friend and she strengthened the bonds of friendship between all of the characters.
Sound Designer Justin Schmitz piped wonderful strains of modern African music in the background as Dylan Uremovich’s dimmed lights shifted scenes with well-placed brownouts. Set Designer Tyler Herald’s visually appealing moving sets helped to create a fashionably contemporary mood. The set was outstanding and equaled anything I have seen in professional venues.
The Call is an excellent production that delivers an important message worth hearing: the courage to love has no cultural bounds.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.
The Call plays through October 8, 2016 at The Clarice – 3800 Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193 (University Boulevard), at University of Maryland in College Park, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 405-ARTS (2787), or purchase them online.