Written and Performed by Mariah MacCarthy; Directed by Sara Lyons
Produced by Caps Lock Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 1.29.17
IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street
by Eleanor J. Bader on 1.7.17
Mariah MacCarthy in Baby Mama. Photo by Sue Brenner.
BOTTOM LINE: One woman’s provocative, heart-rending, and often raunchy look at unplanned pregnancy and reproductive choice.
When Mariah MacCarthy became unexpectedly pregnant in 2012, she knew that she did not live in the village necessary to raise a child. Despite an extensive community of supportive friends and colleagues, she was in bad financial shape and recognized that she did not have the resources to raise a baby, let alone a toddler-turned-child. After a visit to Planned Parenthood where she was examined and counseled, she weighed her options and ultimately decided that she wanted to carry the pregnancy to term and place the newborn for adoption. But with whom?
Meetings with an adoption agency followed and as the pregnancy developed, MacCarthy had the arduous task of sifting through materials from prospective adopters. One application held particular appeal: a mixed-race gay male couple, one an actor/playwright and the other a surgeon, indicated that they were willing to enter into an open adoption, allowing the birth mother to visit the child two or three times a year. The couple seemed perfect, at least on paper. Would they like one another? MacCarthy wondered. Would they have similar values?
A meeting was arranged and the three hit it off, even working together to choose the child’s name. Nearly five years later, MacCarthy, son Leo, and the dads regularly communicate and MacCarthy takes comfort knowing that her son has a stable and loving home.
That said, placing Leo was certainly not easy for MacCarthy, and Baby Mama describes the periodic meltdowns and panic attacks she experienced during the pregnancy and in the immediate aftermath of giving birth. Predictably, doubts surfaced. At the same time, the unplanned pregnancy did not cause MacCarthy to withdraw from life and she seamlessly moves between tales of sexual adventuring--including attending kissing parties and participating in a threesome, a burlesque show, and an orgy while Leo was gestating—and interludes of intense, raw grief. The account is funny, sexy, and heartbreaking.
MacCarthy is a terrific performer and her honest, direct, and sassy delivery raises important questions about reproductive choice and the ways class—that is, having so little money that the idea of choice seems laughable—impacts everyday life. “Most birth mothers, if they could afford to raise their child, would,” she explains. What’s more, if MacCarthy had been able to make ends meet through performance and writing, she emphasizes that she would not have relinquished her son. It’s a sad reality, but there is neither self-pity nor resentment in MacCarthy’s delivery. Instead, thanks to Sara Lyons’ excellent direction, MacCarthy’s straightforward storytelling is riveting and easily opens the door to larger political concerns about both reproduction and reproductive justice.
Yet despite the stellar writing, fabulous performance, and timely political focus, I nonetheless walked out of the theater with a few questions. At no point in the monologue does MacCarthy mention her biological kin, save for one aunt living in Westchester County. Are her parents still in her life? How about siblings? Adding this would tie up a visibly loose end.
This, of course, is a small quibble. Baby Mama tells a remarkable and beautiful story. “I had a choice between giving my son one loving parent or three,” MacCarthy says toward the end of the play. “I could have raised my son. Adoption was just a better idea.”
(Baby Mama: One Woman's Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People plays at the IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, through January 29, 2017. The running time is 70 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays at 7, with an additional performance on Wednesday January 25 at 7. Tickets are $25; for tickets and more information visit capslocktheatre.com.)
Baby Mama is written and performed by Mariah MacCarthy. Directed by Sara Lyons. Nick Mecikalski is Associate Producer. Costume Design is by Stirling Allred. Scenic and Lighting Design by Nick Francone. Stage Manager is Patrick Shearer.