(Alex Bond and Lavita Shaurice Burr in A Home Across the Ocean. Photo by Antonio Miniño.)
BOTTOM LINE: A highly entertaining and compelling new work about a gay couple adopting a child.
A Home Across the Ocean is a rich work that takes us deep into the struggle of Connor and his boyfriend Daniel, a gay couple taking in a foster child with the eventual goal of full adoption. Yet welcoming their new daughter Penny into their home and family isn't the only thing Connor and Daniel have on their plate. Connor's father has recently died and his now-widowed mother Grethe is attempting to re-invigorate her life by reconnecting with an old flame — an African poet from London whom she hasn't seen in 35 years.
And while this might sound like just one more monotonous evening of combing through a family's proverbial emotional baggage, Cody Daigle infuses his play with smart humor and lyrical dialogue, preventing A Home Across the Ocean from becoming yet another weighty family drama. Scenes are short and written to the point. This, combined with the consistent reconfiguring of the minimal set pieces, and the many subtle yet important costume changes, keeps the show from wallowing in itself. A Home Across the Ocean moves at a rapid clip because Dev Bondarin's staging transports you to many different locations, all in a black box theatre that is not much bigger than your bedroom.
As Connor's mother Grethe, Alex Bond steals the show with her subtle and nuanced performance. She deftly mixes the combination of Midwestern suburban housewife and newly liberated widow, one who is ready to break conventions and doesn't care a lick what her son thinks.
Equally compelling is Lavita Shaurice Burr — who though an adult, convincingly plays Penny, a 13-year-old foster child. Through her facial expressions and quiet movements, Burr expertly channels the pain and awkwardness of a child who has been rejected by numerous families and, in general, has been failed by society.
Dathan B. Williams as Mhambi Nobhule, the African-born English poet who has arrived to reclaim Grethe, is also very strong. Mhambi is a well-written character, and Williams adds rhetorical flourishes and slight movements to his text that make it easy to see why Grethe is so deeply enraptured by his polish and air of mystique.
While the play may seem comfortably contemporary, A Home Across the Ocean is actually quite revolutionary in many regards. Daigle never addresses the question of whether or not two men should adopt or are capable of raising this child; rather, the show focuses on whether these two people (regardless of gender or sexuality) are capable. This is an important and brave step Daigle takes, and makes this play different from something like last season's The Kid (also an excellent work) which concerned the feasibility and challenges of specifically gay adoption and parenting. David and Connor (played admirably by the slightly mismatched Mark Emerson and David Stallings) struggle with the situation they find themselves in, one that is completely divorced from their sexuality.
But while admirable, this does provide issue. Daigle's script thoroughly and bravely avoids the questions of gay parenting, but it also never provides insight as to why Connor and Daniel want to raise a child, much less why Connor and Daniel are together. It is simply just a given at the beginning of the play that this couple will be raising a child. When their world gets more complicated and they struggle, it's hard to remember why they wanted to adopt in the first place, because these reasons have never been explicitly developed or said. That forgiven, A Home Across the Ocean, produced by Maieutic Theatre Works, is an incredibly gutsy, funny and compelling new play.
(A Home Across the Ocean plays at The Studio Theatre in the Theatre Row Complex, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, through October 2, 2010. Performances are Tuesdays at 7pm and Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $18.00 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. For more information visit mtworks.org.)