The complications of an affluent New York City gay male couple’s child surrogacy plans are explored in this highly engrossing and well-observed contemporary play. The dialogue is crisp, rich and feels true to life. The complexities of romantic relationships, the primeval desire to procreate, and sexual fluidity are all depicted with searing honesty as plot twists mount.
This impeccably staged production is composed of five scenes. It is performed on the minutely detailed unit set of a luxury Tribeca loft by a cast of excellent energetic young actors.
Daniel is a Caucasian sculptor whose career hasn’t taken off yet and he is partnered with Michael, an African-American high-powered film executive who is also on the board of an art museum. They’ve decided to have a child through a surrogate and Daniel’s task is to interview candidates as he has more time. The most promising is Bekah, a free-spirited schoolteacher. Visitors to the loft include Daniel’s Caucasian high school friend Erik who is a nurse and T’Kia, his pregnant African-American long-time girlfriend who is an executive for The Red Cross. Providing often bizarre comic relief is Hamadi, an eccentric Syrian art gallery owner and stand-up comedian.
In addition to his sterling dialogue, Mr. Erlbach’s script has a subtle documentary style fused with a strong narrative and structure that presents social issues in a compelling manner. Race, class, and sexuality are among the subjects artfully dramatized with pointed comedy and intense feeling.
Under the flawless direction of Michelle Bossy the ensemble interacts with each other with such spontaneity that they often don’t seem to be acting at all and appear to actually be these characters. Ms. Bossy’s physical staging is as equally immersive with its direct simplicity that simulates the reality that the male couple actually lives in this recreated apartment. A dinner party that has gone awry showcases her technical skills, resulting in a darkly uproarious sequence that is staged with the flair of a British sex farce and the fierceness of Ingmar Bergman as the six actors simultaneously cause a variety of commotions.
Devin Norik is perfection as Daniel. Lean and with offbeat good looks, Mr. Norik is an animated whirlwind of physicality and expressiveness. He commandingly conveys the explosive mutations of the character with comedic depth and raw emotion.
Korey Jackson is tremendous as Michael, offering a powerful, calibrated, and chilling portrait of the Type A achiever with all of the smugness, self-importance and dominance one would expect.
The immensely gifted Marinda Anderson delightfully plays T’kia with great warmth mixed with necessary hardness. Clea Aslip as Bekah is initially daffy and gradually stoic in the course of her captivating performance. As the kooky Syrian, Ali Sohaili winningly takes on such an outlandish figure with great focus, getting every laugh possible while also expertly imparting the character’s brief bursts of seriousness.
As well as being the author, Mr. Erlbach also plays Erik. He is equally adept as an actor. With charming goofiness and explosive rage, he captures the anguish of this troubled lost soul.
The awesome set design of Paul Tate dePoo III is a major element of the show’s success. This theater’s voluminous loft space has been perfectly configured into areas representing a kitchen, a dining area, a living room, the sculpture studio, a bedroom, and a hallway. Everything has been dressed with a multitude of appropriate objects and furnishings. The total effect is environmental, that the audience is at the loft viewing the action.
Zach Blane’s lighting design and Emma Wilk’s sound design propel the scene transitions with theatrical flourishes that never totally shatter the illusion of reality. Costume designer Joseph Blaha purposefully clothes each actor from scene to scene with perfect accuracy as to who the characters are.
Considering its themes, events and characters, this production of Sex of the Baby truly captures the zeitgeist of present day Manhattan as Woody Allen’s films of the late 1970’s and 1980’s did then.
Sex of the Baby (through September 27, 2015)
Access Theater Gallery Space, 380 Broadway, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.sexofthebabytheplay.com
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission