Written by Jane Cafarella, e-baby is a two-woman dramedy that delves into the prickly issue of surrogacy with arresting dramatic flair.
The play follows the relationship between middle-aged Catherine (Carolyn Bock), a London-based Australian lawyer, and 20-something Nellie (Sarah Ranken), a surrogate from Massachusetts. After years of unsuccessful IVF treatments, Catherine is desperate to become a mother. She sees Nellie as her final chance to make this dream a reality, but her overbearing behaviour frequently clashes with Nellie’s carefree ways. Nellie, conversely, views surrogacy as an act of kindness, despite the cruel taunts coming from her deeply religious family.
Catherine and Nellie embark on this emotional and exhausting journey together, each firmly insistent that their respective belief is the right way. A prime example of their clashing personalities comes when Catherine suggests singing Josh Groban’s ‘You Raise Me Up’ to the baby in the delivery room, but Nellie would much rather rock out to The Ramones’ ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’.
Bock gives a highly convincing performance, her tense, nervous demeanor admirably expressing Catherine’s anxiety over the surrogacy and its significance in her life. It is hard not to be drawn to her very powerful and personal distress. While Ranken’s American accent is inconsistent, she portrays Nellie with a certain youthful vigour and earnestness that is instantly likeable. Nellie’s ‘come what may’ attitude towards surrogacy frustrates Catherine’s need for precision, making the dynamics between the pair fascinating and all the more compelling.
e-baby never hesitates to shed light on issues that are often overlooked or dismissed in surrogacy matters: the blasé comments from relatives, the cold legal matters in a contractual obligation, the instances where abortion becomes the best option to save a life etc. Cafarella’s script is riveting and Anna McCrossin-Owen’s direction allows the two leads to make the best use of the stage. The production design is interesting but somewhat conventional. The background images of pregnancy tests, in one instance, are more clumsy than innovative.
Nevertheless, e-baby suitably adopts a sensitive approach towards a poignant issue. With its enthralling narrative and light comic touch, the play touches upon morally heavy issues with a keen sincerity that is hard to resist.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5
Directed by: Anna McCrossin-Owen
Written by: Jane Cafarella
Performed by: Carolyn Bock and Sarah Ranken
Chapel off Chapel, Prahran