With the evolution of medicine, maternity can be understood in genetic, gestational, and social terms, all of which complicate our traditional understandings of parenting. Tarragon Theatre’s premiere of Anna Chatterton’s Within the Glass combines this complicated, and sometimes uncomfortable conversation with raw and energetic theatre.
Before any action takes place, we learn that couples Darah (Philippa Domville) and Michael (Rick Roberts), and Linda (Nicola Correia-Damude) and Scott (Paul Braunstein) fell victim to a horrible mix-up at an in vitro fertilization clinic. Based on a real-life account, Darah and Michael’s fertilized egg was accidently implanted into Linda’s uterus.
Darah and Michael’s time is running out, as they had endured six years of IVF treatments with no success -- until now. Scott and Linda already had one child, but decided on IVF after some physical difficulties getting pregnant again.
Four months have passed since the incident, and Darah and Michael attempt to turn the most unnatural chain of events into the most conventional affair, as they welcome Linda and Scott into their home for dinner. Linda’s doctor informs her that she has two options: either terminate the pregnancy, or consider adopting the baby. When the couple arrives for dinner, Scott believes that they are meeting to break the news to Darah and Michael that Linda is ready to abort the baby. Linda isn’t so keen on the idea, and insists that she has a gestational bond with the baby. To everyone’s surprise, Linda expresses her wish to adopt the baby as the social mother. Dinner is served, and chaos ensues.
Tarragon Theatre rarely disappoints with its intricate set designs, and Within the Glass is no exception. Darah and Michael’s pristine pastel living and dining rooms, compliments of set designer Julie Fox, showcase their affluence and comfortable lifestyle. Much is learned about the couple from the intertwining details in the set and script. There is art on the walls, but Michael and Darah do not know where the art is from. The dinner table is beautifully set, and yet the chairs do not match. The couple is dressed for the occasion and the mise en scène portrays the distance between the couples. Linda and Scott stroll onto the set sporting a more low-key, organic bohemian fashion statement.
There is something to appreciate in every character. Scott is quite vocal, taking sarcastic jabs at Linda, but still is one of the more grounded characters in the play. Scott doesn’t want any part in the adoption process, since he feels that he did not contribute to the creation of the baby. Michael complements Scott’s grounded persona with his crowd-pleasing attitude; he is smart, but somewhat timid. Director Andrea Donaldson does a beautiful job demonstrating the power dynamics and negotiation process within the characters’ development.
Ultimately, the show leans a little more towards the female characters. Chatterton provides both women with compelling monologues, in which they express their strong attachments to the baby.
Correia-Damude gives a stellar performance as Linda, who is a misunderstood woman at the mercy of her hormones. Linda is contemplative when everyone else buzzes around her. Her dialogue conveys naivety, but her body language illustrates her courage, as she boldly puts Darah and Scott in their place. She is on the defensive, especially during a semantics debate over the legal contract. You can’t help but feel a tinge of resentment towards Linda’s character; she is constantly running out of the room and making insensitive comments towards Darah. At one point, Linda even degrades Darah by suggesting that she will never be a mother.
After this outburst, it is Darah’s turn to criticize Linda. As Darah, Domville dominates the stage with her smooth, but commanding vocal inflections. Darah shows a lack of pity for Linda, as she expresses her desperation for a child, while at the same time holding onto the audience’s sympathy.
In 90 minutes, Chatterton provides a raw demonstration of divided families and co-parenting. There are lighter parts of the play used to compensate for the seriousness of the screw-up. These scenes allow for some laughter at how different the couples are, but also for some optimism at how willing they are to compromise.
Still, there is a lot of fat that should be trimmed from the production. Surely, the length of the play could have been shortened, by omitting some of the predictable one-liners, for instance. Some conversations between Michael and Scott convey a boy’s club cliché-type of humor, and they take away from the play’s overall tone. Nevertheless, the script’s creativity greatly outweighs some of these downfalls. Within the Glass ends similarly to how it begins: unresolved, and dark.
Within the Glass runs until Feb 14 in Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace. For tickets and more information, visit www.tarragontheatre.com.