Within the Glass
By Anna Chatterton
Tarragon Theatre, Toronto
To February 14, 2016
Dashed expectations might be two words to sum up the well-made play that Anna Chatterton has written about two couples struggling – in four different directions – over an in vitro fertilization gone terribly wrong.
Upwardly mobile, in fact very much arrived, Michael and Darah are on tenterhooks in their perfectly appointed living/dining room, anticipating the arrival of a couple they’ve never met before. Scott and Linda, poet and artist, have it seems been given the wrong petri dish and now Linda’s bearing a foetus that is legally not her own. Scott and Linda’s embryo didn’t prove viable in Darah’s uterus – nor did the previous five fertilized eggs of her own. What is to be done?
The scenario sounds like the set up for a debate on reproductive rights, but Within the Glass is a lot more dynamic than that. It’s a black comedy of manners with many tragic elements. Ravenous eating is the central metaphor in a performance in which all are hungering for something they’ll never get.
In structure reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, this parlour drama directed by Andrea Donaldson defies audience expectations at every one of its many turns of mood, as if both men and women were running wild on hormones. Julia Fox’s detailed set and costumes reinforce the theme of how our animal natures lie just below the surface of civilized behaviour and confound our drive for order, fairness and decency.
A bearded Paul Braunstein plays Scott, a gruff guy with the unlikely occupation of renowned poet. He makes it clear as he enters with his pancho-ed wife Linda (Nicola Correia-Damude), the glow of pregnancy full upon her, that he hasn’t come for a social occasion. A suave, Rick Roberts in bespoke suit is Michael, the investment banker who assures his careerist wife Darah (Philippa Domville) that he can make a deal and they will get the baby they’ve been longing for.
Over the 90-minute course of highly physical theatre all four characters exit and enter, switch and shed their stereotypes, revealing themselves to be driven by nothing but self-interest. The show is staged like a mad minuet.
Linda sets the action in motion by announcing she wants to keep Darah and Michael’s baby; she is after all, carrying it. This is unwelcome news to Scott who thought they’d decided to abort. Dinner, arranged so fastidiously, from the scotch and tzatziki (“all the way from Greece; we like to support the local shops”) to the capon (“Linda’s a vegetarian”) never does get properly served as husbands and wives turn on each other and reveal hidden facets of themselves, such as Michael’s way with a foot massage for another man’s wife.
The words “foetus” and “baby” become loaded missiles hurled across the floor, as men become mothering and women go on the attack. This is a play about identity turned into a game of musical chairs, but the stakes are high and it is never clear whether anyone comes out a winner.