By Julia Jackson; Directed by Mary Guzman
Produced by United Solo Theatre Festival at Theater Row
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Ran through 11.19.16
Theatre Row's Studio Theater, 410 West 42nd Street
by Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti on 11.22.16
Julia Jackson in Children Are Forever. Photo by David M. Allen.
BOTTOM LINE: Julia Jackson’s searingly funny solo performance Children Are Forever recounts her experience as an adoptive parent with patience, honesty, and a diverse cast of characters.
Despite what your sex education class taught you, making a baby can take a lot more than two people. In fact, Children Are Forever: All Sales Are Final! shows us that the real number is almost three times as many. Julia Jackson showcases the many characters involved in the birth and subsequent adoption of a beautiful baby girl. First are Julia and her wife Amy, the biracial lesbian couple from California, hurtling through the jarring realities of the adoption process and offered a birth mother match in Atlanta five days after signing up as candidates…five months sooner than they expect. In addition, we meet the birth mother, her disapproving family, and a handful of other minor characters, each portrayed by Jackson with unique physicality and skilled accent work. Intertwining in complicated ways, the many are joined in welcoming one new life.
The miracle of parenthood for Julia and Amy comes down to numbers. Adopting is, in a sense, the act of buying a baby, and it is this tension that Jackson explores in her most interesting moments. We learn that, based on the demand for white children, black and Latino babies cost half as much and require race-based sensitivity trainings to adopt. Due to her own biracial heritage, scrutinized by a fascist German administrator, Julia is deemed adequately culturally black enough to be a suitable parent; this raises interesting questions about cultural commonalities and the legibility of black identity. On a sleepless red-eye flight to Georgia, Julia envisions what she fears the birth mother must be like. Based on internalized stereotypes about young black poor women, it is an unflattering portrait of both the fantasy and the fantasizer. This is an uncomfortable but honest moment, revealing the reciprocal effect of racism and ripe for greater exploration, though Children Are Forever does not delve very deeply into the discomfort.
Feelings of inadequacy for the task ahead and the question of what makes a "good" parent are echoed in every character’s struggle with the situation. Julia adds her fears about the validity of black cultural and gender identity to the normal mix of selfishness and control at the core of all parental experience. Her hyper-articulate partner, Amy, is plagued by feelings of failure over her attempts at in vitro fertilization. Jackson transitions between characters with amazing acuity, often switching accents with lightning speed. The obvious work done to differentiate and build out every perspective deserves great praise. Beyond a mere feat of performance skill, Jackson’s patient script is eminently believable and delivers an emotional ending that evoked unexpected tears from the audience. We genuinely care about these families and the outcome of the adoption, for everyone’s sake.
Making a life-changing decision in a single moment, Julia and Amy run towards parenthood with open arms but are surprised when they are weighed down by their pasts. When it is revealed that alcoholism and addiction have impacted both families, it becomes clear that these seemingly different lives have more in common than even they expect. Showing that family is something that is made through small, everyday battles, Children Are Forever is a poignant reminder that we are more than the sum of our parts.
(Children Are Forever: All Sales Are Final! played at Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street, through November 19 2016. The running time was one hour and thirty minutes with no intermission. Performances were November 12th at 9 and November 19th at 2. Tickets were $18 and available at telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200. For more information visit unitedsolo.org.
Children Are Forever: All Sales Are Final! is written and performed by Julia Jackson. Directed by Mary Guzman. Produced by United Solo Theatre Festival at Theater Row.