There have been notable plays in the past such as Federico García Lorca’s Yerma that have addressed the maternal instinct, the ‘need’ for some women to adopt the role of a mother. Nearly a hundred years later, this ‘need’ has shown no signs of abating. For some, looking after a child is enough, so adoption is a viable route. However for others, what matters most is that a child who is their direct descendant exists, some part of them who will live on, someone who is undisputedly ‘theirs’… Written by Jane Cafarella and directed by Pamela Schermann, e-baby looks at the peaks and troughs of undergoing IVF treatment and how it’s intermittment ‘success rate’ can lead a woman to consider surrogacy as an option.
Catherine (Kat-Anne Rogers) is a successful 40-something lawyer who seems to have everything a person could want – a loving spouse, affluence and a job that allows her to live and work in different countries, as per her choosing. The one thing that’s missing from her life is a child to call her own… It’s one of the few things that other people (including her own mother) see as a ‘failure’ on Catherine’s part. Having already gone several rounds of IVF treatment where the zygotes for one reason or another haven’t ‘taken hold’, Catherine considers paying another woman to let an embryo with her genetic material grow until it reaches full-term.
Enter Nellie (Rachael Bellis). A relatively young, but seasoned mother from Boston, Massachusetts, she is fertile, has two children of her own and in good health. She also is a practising Catholic, so for her to help in the creation of life is a duty and a calling. Of course her beliefs are also a double-edged sword as in cases of ‘complications’, it’s common practice in fertility issues to let embryos that threaten the life of the mother or other embryos, to be terminated. It’s a conundrum that wouldn’t be welcome if it arose…
In her own way, Catherine’s ‘virtues’ are also her shortcomings, as we see that the qualities that make her a successful lawyer aren’t directly transferable to ‘the real world’. You can’t micromanage somebody else’s life, especially when you’re based thousands of miles away. While this need for control can be put down to Catherine’s anxiety at making this ‘last chance’ work, her wishlist veers from ‘the quest for perfection’ to rigid – if impractical – demands that are harder to enforce as ‘ the big day’ approaches. If one were to make an observation about Catherine’s temperament, her predilection for organization and no-nonsense attitude to eating, resting etc, marks her down more as a stereotypical ‘nanny’ than a doting mother-to-be.
In contrast, Nellie as a character is the ‘yang’ to Catherine’s ‘ying’. While Catherine may be inexperienced in matters of motherhood, she knows all about the emotional toll that failed pregnancies (using her ‘expiring’ eggs) have on one’s well-being. Also, over the course of the play, who is ‘positive’ and who is circumspect changes, as the pregnancy that Nellie experiences this time around is anything but routine…
Rogers’ performance brings to the fore all of Catherine’s qualities without apology, simultaneously conveying a person steeped in culture and sophisitication, yet at the same time completely unaware of how her life of privilege has coloured her expectations of reality. As for Bellis, she brings a down-to earth charm to the proceedings, demonstrating a sincerity – as well as perhaps some naivety – to her character’s altruism, and what it actually costs her, apart from nine months of her life.
As a chronicle of both sides of the coin of surrogacy, e-baby gives an unvarnised account of what makes surrogacy so stressful for both parties and why pregnancy – far from being a foregone conclusion – has always been a precarious, unpredictable business. The play also highlights who actually has the position of power in surrogacy arrangements, regardless of contracts. Beyond the altruism or money exchanged, when it comes to the ownership of one’s own body, who’s to say another woman can dictate terms in such matters?
© Michael Davis 2019
e-baby runs at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 30th November.