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Arts and Entertainment

In a Private Home, this Play takes You on a Drama from Room to Room

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Alina Phelan and David Heckel(2).jpg


Alina Phelan and David Heckel | Courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theater

Over the course of a woman's reproductive years, the idea of getting knocked up takes on different meanings. It can be terrifying at times, and if she wants children, all-consuming at others. In her new play, "Family Planning," Julia Edwards explores one couples' experience as they navigate the tail end of those years.

Put up this month by the Chalk Repertory Theater, Edwards' show centers around Olivia (Alina Phelan) and Hamish (David Heckel), a couple in their late thirties who are struggling with infertility. The play is staged in a private home, the audience sits about two feet away from the actors, allowing for an almost uncomfortably close view of the action.

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It begins as Hamish settles in for a quiet night. He's interrupted almost immediately by his best friend Rosen (David Ari), a married man who unexpectedly brings over his new girlfriend, Jilly (Elia Saldana). Next comes Olivia, home early from work and anxious to have some quality baby-making time with Hamish. And with the arrival of Hamish's WASP-y, feminist-hating mother Greta (Danielle Kennedy), the couple's shaky grip on control quickly begins to come loose.

As the play moves from one room to the next, confessions come pouring out of each character like water from a glass pitcher. Their semblance of a happy home, it turns out, provides a very thin cover for the pain and heartache that their infertility has caused.

The beauty of the play lies partly in what's said between people who are supposed to know each other better than anyone else in the world (husband and wife, mother and child), but more so in the effects of what has gone unsaid. If it were put on by lesser actors, the subtlety would have been lost. But Chalk Rep made no such mistake. Phalen as Olivia is outstanding, and heart-wrenchingly believable -- from her GAP wardrobe to her awkward attempt to introduce porn into her sex life. And Kennedy's Greta is played with impeccable restraint, as she exercises her pointed obsession with undermining Olivia every chance she gets.

The play's only weakness lies in the peripheral characters of Rosen and Jilly. Rosen spews one stereotypical "cheating husband" statement after another (in reference to younger women vs. older women: "We're talking about puppies and dogs"), and Jilly's overblown accent ("Like, I'm taking this claaass? And I really liiiiiike it?") distracts from what is an otherwise solid performance.

The close proximity to the actors means that there's no escape for the audience from the rapidly devolving evening. No getting up to go to the bathroom (too awkward), no sticking your nose in a playbill to reread the main character's bio when things onstage turn ugly. The audience is as forced, as are the characters, to confront the messy human drama that no one wanted, no one could have predicted, and yet everyone has to clean up.

"Family Planning"
April 3-26, 2009
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM, Sundays at 7:00PM.
Tickets: $25 at Brown Paper Tickets, 1-800-838-3006 or BrownPaperTickets.com.