note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
Playwright Monica Bauer says her taut new, one-act play, “Chosen Child,” is “sort of my ‘Glass Menagerie’ memory play... part true story, and part fiction”. She says she was told she was adopted, but discovered she never was legally. Also, legally, she doesn’t exist.
Her play is a tightly-woven, carefully scripted tale of a bittersweet, dysfunctional family. “Chosen Child” skillfully traverses from present to the past, then back again, from New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, to Omaha, Neb., and a few other sites, utilizing few prop changes.
Unfortunately, “Chosen Child” closed Nov. 22, but it’s one of the most poignant, moving and worthwhile dramatic pieces I’ve seen in a while, thanks to this cast’s superlative acting. At first blush, its premise seems outlandish, but it cuts deeper than unsuspecting theatergoers realize, because they identify with it, through their own similar experiences.
The plot involves a thirtysomething male named David, who is deeply agitated, and insists he must buy a ticket to Omaha, Neb. to find his long-lost older sister. His mother just died, and she advised him to seek out his elder sibling, Donna, whom he met briefly only once, a long time ago. When they met during their childhood, Donna and David realized they shared much in common, even finishing each other’s thoughts and sentences.
But David’s mother, Claudia, is dead. And Donna, a successful author and psychiatrist, vehemently claims Claudia isn’t her mother. She was adopted by Lee and her husband (whom we never meet), and Donna wants it to remain that way. She knows her mother abandoned her, never wanted her, never tried to find her, and that’s the way it is. Although Donna sent David several letters throughout the years, he never replied. David sent Donna several letters, too, but without avail.
What they didn’t know is for many years, they lived near each other, in New York City. As the story unfolds, Bauer masterfully produces more hints about this family’s tragic circumstances, which require explanation, understanding, forgiveness, retribution, and reunion. I don’t want to reveal specifics, because if “Chosen Child” returns to the Boston area, theater buffs who enjoy provocative drama may want to see it.
The intimate space at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (949 Comm. Ave., Boston) is ideally suited for the play, because the audience focuses entirely on the actors - an easy task with this sterling cast. Director Megan Schy Gleeson wisely selected mega-talented, Central Square Theater artistic directors Lee Mikeska Gardner (Nora Theater Company) to portray lead role Claudia and Debra Wise (Underground Railway Theater) to portray her alienated, embittered daughter, Donna. Lewis D. Wheeler, another Boston outstanding favorite, is captivating throughout the play, as he, Gardner and Wise time travel from childhood, youth and adulthood, with seamless, split-second timing.
Portraying David, whose personality wavers between childlike neediness and superior intellect, Wheeler paints a realistic portrait of mental illness, profoundly affecting viewers.
Portraying adoptive mother, Lee, Margaret Ann Brady is a stabilizing force among this fractured family, who, little by little, reveals shocking secrets. Melissa Jesser is a triple threat in her three roles: the gum-snapping, unsympathetic, matter-of-fact Port Authority ticket saleswoman, a social worker, and Donna’s teen-age daughter, Anne.
David Wilson’s lighting and sound special effects and Anthony R. Phelps’ eerie-looking set, with its floor-to-ceiling, white gossamer columns, geometric-shaped seats and props, add a haunting air of mysticism and foreboding, perhaps symbolic of the ghosts that time can’t erase from us.