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Can we, as spectators, care about the problems of people we don't necessarily like? That's the conundrum in The Call, Tanya Barfield's intense examination of the ramifications of cross-cultural, cross-racial adoption that opened Friday at Little Rock's Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

Infertile couple Peter (Benjamin Bauman) and Annie (Chiara B. Motley) have reached, with considerable difficulty and angst (mostly on Annie's part), the decision to adopt a baby girl from Africa. Then, once they get "the call," something they learn about their prospective child, though nothing either tragic or earth-shattering, is still enough to threaten to tear their world apart.

Motley does such a superb job of making Annie and her neuroses sufficiently unsympathetic (while Bauman's Peter is playing mostly defense) in the first act, and their friends Drea (Soara-Joye Ross) and overdramatic Rebecca (Crystal Sha'nae) are so archly annoying, that one wonders heading into intermission if there will ever be anything worthwhile in the finale.

Thankfully, the playwright and the actors offer up a huge helping of second-act redemption, with a lot of help from Nathan Hinton as the upstairs neighbor Alemu, a gentleman of African origin who, through parables and a hideously awful personal experience, puts everything into proper perspective.

Director Gilbert McCauley ably manipulates the play's criss-cross dialogue and many painful silences -- in some first-act moments, you can cut the unease with a knife. Mike Nichols' seemingly simple and apparently unitary set contains several hidden surprises.

The Call runs through Feb. 11 at the Rep, 601 Main St. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 378-0405 or online at TheRep.org.

Metro on 01/27/2018

Print Headline: Second-act redemption makes Call worth taking

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