The Free Association Theatre Ensemble will present the world premiere of Oh, Baby! A Collection of Fertility Plays, written by award-winning local playwright Debbie Barrett and directed by FATE founder and artistic director Julya M. Mirro, on April 29 and 30 and May 5-7 in its storefront theater at 267 Grande Heights Dr., located in the Harrison Pointe Shopping Center in Cary, NC.
“This is the playwright’s first full-length play,” notes director Julya M. Mirro. “She is on the faculty of [the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s] School of Social Work and in private practice as a clinical social worker. She began writing short plays two years ago, in her mid-40s.”
Mirro adds, The show runs approximately 90 minutes, without an intermission [and s]eating is limited.”
“[Oh Baby] began somewhat randomly,” recalls dramatist Debbie Barrett, whose two short plays won The ArtsCenter‘s 2009 PlaySlam. “I had written a 10-minute play (in which a woman tracks down her potential sperm donor, a Marxist college student) that Julya Mirro was going to direct as part of a festival of shorts last February, but [that festival] was canceled because of snow. This was really disappointing, because Julya had been so enthusiastic and I was looking forward to her interpretation of the piece.
“In the weeks leading up to the show,” says Barrett, “we had spoken a lot about the characters and how she was going to stage it. Afterward, we wanted to continue to work together, and somehow landed on the idea of a show on fertility. Among the numerous short plays I’d written for different festivals, I realized I had two others on fertility (a comedy on conception and a drama on grief).”
Barrett adds, “Julya committed to the project and scheduled Oh Baby (then a tentative title) for Spring 2011, even though I had written less than [half] of it. Over the next weeks, I introduced the characters from the three plays I had already written. It seemed that because I already knew the characters from their original short plays, they just took it from there. I had never experienced anything like it. I’d put two characters together in a new scene, and they’d write the script. I found out that some of the characters were old friends contending with complex issues, or strangers [who] would impact each other in unexpected ways.
“Each time I wrote the next short play,” Barrett says, “I would bring it to the Carrboro Playwrights’ Roundtable for feedback. It was interesting, because I did not bring them in order, and they did not give them any background, so they would read them aloud as if each was a stand-alone play. Their feedback helped me make sure to include enough information in each.
“I felt strongly that I wanted each to hold up as a separate piece, and wanted to be able to submit them [to] festivals of short plays,” Barrett reveals. “I have submitted [these short plays] to a few [festivals] (and gotten to watch some [of them] performed). However, now that they are all connected, it is hard for me to think about them separately. They seem more like integrated parts of a whole.”
Director Julya Mirro adds, “I really liked the subject matter [of Oh Baby], and I appreciated that its subject matter (fertility/infertility) was something that affects many people, but not many talk about it.
“I thought it was a good fit for FATE,” adds Mirro, “as we strive to bring challenging and thought-provoking work to the Triangle. I am also personally affected by the subject matter, and found the script to be authentic to thoughts, emotions, and situations I, and others, have encountered. Additionally, Debbie was very generous in enabling some collaboration on my part, first, and then with the actors; it’s such a great opportunity to produce local work, share in the creative process with other artists, and bring a truly ensemble piece to the community!”
Dramatist Debbie Barrett says, “[Oh Baby] focuses mainly on the precipice facing each character in the space between anticipating parenthood and actually becoming a parent (or not). Much of the play is character focused, highlighting their anxieties, and demonstrating their connectedness.”
“[Oh Baby] is comprised of eight vignettes,’ notes director Julya Mirro. ‘Conception’ shares Evie’s (Noelle Barnard) desire to be wholly informed and prepared in trying to conceive with her husband, Adam (Jim Azarelo). ‘Direct Deposit’ demonstrates the lengths Vivian (Joanna Herath) will go to in order to be sure about a decision, meeting David (Matt Gromlich). ‘Inside Stories’ explores the encounter between a miscarrying Dolores (Jessica Kent) and unhappily pregnant Sarah (Sheryl Scott).
“‘Mothers Need Not Apply’ delves into the challenges of adoption,” Mirro explains. “‘Input and Output’ shows how a family handles the challenge of learning how to parent after the baby is born.”
Mirro adds, “‘Fatherhood in Drag’ is a touching, yet amusing, piece between emcee Kyle (Wyatt Geist), Adam (Jim Azarelo), and performer ‘Mimi’ (Stacie Whitley). ‘Tiny Clothes’ is about acceptance in a multitude of ways. ‘The Playing Field’ brings all the characters together, and reveals their lives about 18 months later.”
Playwright Debbie Barrett says, “The show starts by introducing separate stories: a young married couple try to plan (even micromanage) the act of becoming pregnant; two women share their stories in an ob/gyn clinic (an older woman who is miscarrying a very wanted pregnancy and the other laments her pregnant status); and an older woman tracks down her sperm donor to make sure she’s making the right decision.
“In what follows,” Barrett explains, “the young couple (Adam and Evie) grapples with their significant differences, which become increasingly apparent and heightened as they enter parenthood. This is facilitated by their separate acquaintance with Kyle, a gay man who desires to become a father.
“For Adam,” Barrett says, “interactions with Kyle help him realize his feelings — how out of place he feels in his own family, and his ability both to assert himself and to contemplate change. For Evie, who works in an adoption clinic, Kyle offers hope; and she connects him to Sarah, the young pregnant woman in the opening scene, changing their lives. And the two older women, who, it turns out, have been friends since childhood, confront their very different responses to infertility, and the impact their choices and situation have on the friendship.
“In the culminating scene,” says Barrett, “the audience sees more of the interconnectedness of all of the characters and their stories.”
She notes, “The play does not have a beginning, middle, and end, in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s like we are walking into the middle of intimate encounters. While each of the characters experiences significant change over the course of the play (which spans [about] two years of their lives), the audience is left seeing many openings and possibilities for the characters.”
In addition to playwright Debbie Barrett and director Julya Mirro, the Free Association Theatre Ensemble creative team for Oh Baby includes technical director Leslie A. Pless; set designers Leslie Pless, John Paul Middlesworth, and Julya Mirro; lighting designer Michael Lefler; costume designers Julya Mirro, Stacie Whitley, and Leslie Pless; properties managers Deirdre Lewis and Matt Brown; sound designer Brian Clark; and stage managers Deirdre Lewis (rehearsal) and Matt Brown (production).
“The set is comprised of four playing spaces,” says director Julya Mirro. “each utilized in rotation through the vignettes. The spaces are designed to represent a cycle, with one higher platform, two shorter platforms on either side, and a ground-level area. These areas and items within them come together in the final scene, just as the characters’ stories come together in the script.”
Mirro adds, ” The lighting is relatively simple, assisting with focus and helping to delineate the performance space…. Costumes are simple and represent the time period/season for each scene, and are generally static.
“Pregnancies are represented,” notes Mirro, “and most characters will be easily identifiable by their costume, as they make only minor alterations to each as the play runs.”
Staging the world premiere of Oh Baby in FATE’s storefront theater at 267 Grande Heights Dr. presented several challenges for the Cary-based theater company’s cast and creative team, says director Julya Mirro. “The major challenge,” Mirro says, “was making sure each of the vignettes stood on their own (as they were written as individual pieces) and yet had a connectivity in the staging, transitions, lights, etc.
“I felt that the ‘cycle’ of the piece, their lives, and the subject matter should also be represented in the staging,” Mirro says, “and we worked towards that. I think that the audience will see the cyclical nature of the blocking/staging, and will find that it enhances the themes and images set forth in the script.
Playwright Debbie Barrett adds, “The creative director, Julya [Mirro], took on all of the challenges, and I had the luxury of watching it all happen. She is truly inspiring, and I have learned a lot about what can go on in the back end of a play.
“What I saw,” Barrett says, “was Julya and each actor’s devotion to getting inside each character. Because all that they knew about each character took place in one to three short scenes, they had a lot of liberty and decisions to make about how to conceive of each character.”
SECOND OPINION: April 27th Chapel Hill, NC Chapel Hill News preview by Dave Hart: http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2011/04/27/64043/the-plays-the-thing.html; April 25th Cary, NC Cary Citizen preview by Lindsey Chester: http://www.carycitizen.com/2011/04/25/theater-a-reproduction-production/; and April 22nd NBC 17 “My Carolina Today” interview with Debbie Barrett and Julya M. Mirro: http://www.mycarolinatoday.com/2011/04/world-premeier-of-fertility-play/.
Free Association Theatre Ensemble presents OH, BABY! A COLLECTION OF FERTILITY PLAYS, world premiere of a new play by Debbie Barrett, at 8 p.m. April 29 and 30 and May 5-7 at 267 Grande Heights Dr., located in the Harrison Pointe Shopping Center in Cary, North Carolina 27513.
BOX OFFICE: 919/228-8184 or FATEreservations@gmail.com.
NOTE: On Saturday, April 30th and May 7th, there will be a “Special Party Bus” departing from the Fresh Market in Chapel Hill, with playwright Debbie Barrett onboard. The $25 price includes a show ticket, transportation, and drinks and snacks en route. To reserve a seat on the Special Party Bus, telephone 919/228-8184 or e-mail FATEreservations@gmail.com.
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