Chicago Theatre Review
Womb for Rent
Samsara – Victory Gardens Theater
To what desperate lengths will a couple go in order to have their own child? With recent advances in science, that often seem like science fiction or a scene from Brave New World, infertile parents can now pay another woman to carry their eggs and sperm and ultimately give birth to their baby for them. Of course, this is all accomplished for a price. In Lauren Yee’s unusual, very funny play, currently enjoying its World Premiere in Chicago, an American couple are about to have their first child, with the help of a surrogate. The stress and complications experienced by all three people involved can only be described as surreal.
Because several Asian countries have provided less expensive surrogate options than the United States, Katie and Craig have chosen to hire a young woman in India named Suraiya to incubate and bear their child. The anxiety and anticipation that haunt these three people are enhanced and made more difficult by their real problems and unbelievable imaginations. Suraiya carries on lengthy, imaginary conversations with Amit, the name she’s given to her unborn fetus. Katie, who chose not to travel to India with her husband, because she fears flying, is back home enjoying romantic fantasies with an imaginary Frenchman, inspired by repeated viewings of her mother’s favorite video. Having flown alone to India, Craig spends most of his time holed up in the hotel because he’s afraid to cross the busy street. When he finally emerges and eventually meets Suraiya at the clinic he learns a great deal about her, India and surrogacy. Throughout the play, the young Indian woman explains to both Amit and Craig what her life has been, what her family expects of her and what are her secret ambitions. She also explains the concept of “samsara,” which has two meanings: among Buddhists, the word implies coming into existence; but within the Hindu religion it refers to reincarnation, the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. In explaining this term, Suraiya gives voice to what Ms. Yee’s play is really about. Through all the comic dialogue, the flights of fantasy, the fears and insecurities, this play, with its frantic action and dream-like quality, is about people caught in the cycle of life.
The cast, under the sharp, energetic direction of Seth Bockley, is excellent. Behzad Dabu, one of many standouts in TimeLine’s “The History Boys” and their more recent production of “Blood and Gifts,” is terrific as Amit. Leaping about and bouncing around Joe Schermoly’s simple, platformed set, Mr. Dabu is lovable and engaging as the smart-mouthed fetus. His wild antics and endless questions and observations provoke most of the laughs in this play. The beautiful Arya Daire brings Suraiya to life, imbuing her with all the apprehension and agitation one would expect from a woman about to give birth. What the American couple expect from this young woman isn’t exactly what they find. Ms. Daire creates a three-dimensional character who elicits humor and empathy from the audience as her journey continues.
Joe Dempsey, a proven comic actor in Milwaukee Rep’s “Noises Off” and Northlight’s recent production of “The Mousetrap,” plays Craig, a comic stranger in a strange land, as he travels alone to India to be at the birth of his child. Upon finally meeting their surrogate, Craig gains a wealth of new information from Suraiya, which unleashes some surprising emotions within this American father-to-be. Lori Myers, so excellent in Northlight’s “The Commons of Pensacola,” is strong and hilarious as Katie. Her motivation to have a child, at all costs, drives her character. But it’s in her daydreams, wherein a passionate Frenchman fulfills her romantic needs, that the actress really shines. Ever-reliable actor, Jeff Parker, nicely plays both the imaginary Frenchman and a British obstetrician. He’s excellent and very funny, especially when chasing Katie around the stage clad in a tiny robe and a pair of briefs.
Ms. Yee’s play has a lot to say about the tricky risks of surrogacy, especially when it involves participants from different cultures. The expectations of everyone involved, paired with the cost and outcome, is depicted as unique. In a topic that’s seldom discussed, this dramatic look at womb rental, both as a means for earning easy income and as a solution for the more affluent, hopeful parents-to-be, Lauren Yee’s play leaves audiences with an entertaining, yet very thought-provoking, evening of theatre.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 6-March 8 by Victory Gardens Theater at the Biography, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-871-3000 or by going to www.victorygardens.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.