May Green and Robert James-Baker have some issues with sperm. Field Trip Theatre’s Stopgap, directed by Jamila Reddy, explores the relationship between small-town America and the residents who grow up there.
The play follows protagonists May Green (Caitlin Diana Doyle) and Robert James-Baker (Michael Litchfield), two long-time residents now navigating their early thirties as teachers at the same high school in which they found themselves as teenagers.
If the characters seem fairly stock, their conflicts are novel enough. They both face middle-aged restlessness in jobs that feel good, but not great. They both feel stagnant; Green feels trapped in the town she has never been able to leave. James-Baker, now married to his inversely-named husband David Baker-James, left briefly for a prestigious degree at MIT, but has been drawn back (presumably for Green). James-Baker and Baker-James face standard mid-life crises over whether or not to adopt and start a family of their own, while the still-single Green seriously contemplates carrying a child from a sperm donor. The play’s central issue comes when Robert, who argues against raising a child with his husband, offers his sperm to May, who accepts.
Litchfield, playing Robert, does an admirable job of holding the piece together. He conveys a sense of small-town claustrophobia, while at the same time being wedged-in between the often conflicting demands of his best friend and his husband. Doyle, playing Green, has a few strong moments of her own — often in her classroom with her student Jen Parker (played convincingly by Megan Westman). Well-warranted comic relief comes from Robert’s eccentric scene-stealing mother, Julie James (a delightful Eileen Haley), who, like her son, has a propensity for replacing “What?” with “Pardon?”
The script by Danielle Mohlman has potential, though much of the show comes off a bit too reminiscent of a ’90s-era sitcom. Major points in the plot don’t quite hit believability; it may be asking too much of the audience to accept the show’s central premise — and at the least begs the question, “What ethical doctor would ever allow this transaction to happen?”
The show would have benefited from a more stringent editor, or perhaps a few more drafts. The script does indeed probe important questions, though perhaps not the ones it promises. I found myself less interested in issues of hetero-normativity than in those of place — can an individual from small-town America ever get away? If he can get away, can he stay away? Does a best friend in high school really evoke so strong a pull as to challenge a marriage forged through college? And what of those mid-life Maslovian issues of isolation versus commitment, and job stagnation versus career fulfillment?
The script’s best moments are its smallest. The tiny similarities in language shared between Robert and his mother are terrific. As is Robert’s small cluck to David, reminding him wordlessly to put his shoes away before bed, serving as perhaps the most believable and convincing moment of their entire on-stage relationship.
These details compliment some strong directorial choices, such as having the characters not currently involved in the scene compose an active setting, occasionally handing or taking prop pieces from the characters on stage. Together these make meaningful steps towards salvaging a show that, on-the-whole, feels melodramatic and slightly dated.
Other details, such as David’s letters to an apartment in which he no longer lives, cry out with potential that just missed the mark.
The questions posed in the play are good, though could have been done with a more convincing premise. The abnormal relationship the central characters have with Robert’s sperm, while rich with dramatic potential, require too much effort to believe. This is a large disservice to the play, leaving too little time for the audience to relate to the characters who live beneath a large and unrealistic choice. It is a conceit that may have been better left to a more comedic satire than to a meaningful drama.
This play geets salvaged by small moments . Give it a try for questions of place, or if you just miss those good old ’90s-era Friends hijinks. Though if you’re in search for a more mature and polished play, you may be better looking elsewhere.
Stopgap has 4 performanced, ending July 28, 2012, at B103 at Mt Vernon United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC
Details and tickets
Chase rates this 3 out of a possible 5.