Two metropolitan couples gather for fish with mango coulis and Bordeaux in a well-appointed apartment before working up to one pair’s big news: Peter (Kelly AuCoin) and Annie (Xanadu‘s Kerry Butler), childless after years of trying, have decided to adopt. Their partnered, globetrotting African-American pals Rebecca (Luck of the Irish‘s Eisa Davis) and Drea (Clybourne Park‘s Crystal A. Dickinson), seem to be in full support, even after the adoption locale is dropped: Africa. So when do the God of Carnage-style, blotto fireworks begin? Quite surprisingly, never.
But that ends up being a good thing. The Call, written by Tanya Barfield (Pulitzer finalist Blue Door) and playing at Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons through May 19, sets up a scenario where you’d expect race to be the dividing line between the couples. That issue ends up being the most benign part of the equation. Instead, when their child turns out to be older than expected, Annie and Peter face other conundrums. Can they truly claim a child born to poverty who may have already-formed memories of such a life? What is the innate appeal of a newborn versus a toddle? And why do American couples tend to adopt outside the U.S.? (Adding a bold dash of art imitating life: In reality, actress Butler is the proud mother of an adopted child from Africa.)
There are so many artfully raised points in Barfield’s script that one can’t help be disappointed when creakier material is introduced. She shoehorns in an AIDS-related subplot involving one character’s sibling, and the fact that Peter and Annie have a sage African neighbor seems a little too convenient, despite an exuberant performance by Russell G. Jones (Ruined). (In fact, there are no slackers in this fine ensemble, smoothly guided by director Leigh Silverman.) It’s almost as if Barfield couldn’t resist Big Topics, even when it’s the small, telling ones (African-American hair treatment, the virtues of vacationing in Costa Rica, why ”black don’t crack”) that most captivate our attention. B
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