Organic Theater Company Greenhouse

Imagine that you’re standing in the checkout line and you read the following Enquirer headline: “White Woman Raped Nine Times by Black Man. Kills Rapist–But Decides She Wants to Keep His Baby!” Would you pick it up?

Of course not. Few people would believe such a story, and if you did believe it, would you care to read about it? Personally, I have better things to do, even in the checkout line. And Lord knows I can think of far better subjects for a two-hour play.

A Child Is Born, Stan Nevin’s drama on just that subject, was clearly intended to be a powerful, socially relevant work. But as they say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Writing a politically correct play seems to have been Nevin’s intention, and at that he succeeds. A Child Is Born is full of such pertinent fiery issues as rape, race relations, abortion, and marital infidelity. It has intelligent, meaty roles for women, blacks, Jews, and Catholics. It’s a play of healing and hope. And, alas, it’s pathetically insipid.

Cassie (Madelyn Sergel), a young lawyer, is dating Randy (Scott Cummins), a free-spirited free-lance writer who lives in a tough neighborhood. It’s in Randy’s apartment that Cassie gets raped by–and then kills–a young black drug addict. The play opens two months after the incident. Randy and Cassie are now living in Cassie’s apartment, presumably in a safer section of Chicago. Cassie’s pregnant sister, Susan (Debra Ann Miller), and her dentist husband, David (Ron Wells), have come down from the North Shore for dinner at a restaurant. Everybody’s all uptight. Randy’s “desperate” because he doesn’t know how to deal with Cassie, and Susan “wants her sister back.” No one knows how to act when Cassie’s around.

The second scene introduces Christopher (Robert Teverbaugh), the intelligent African American lawyer who works in the same firm as Cassie and is one of her good friends. For two months, Christopher says, Cassie has been unable to look him in the eye. She gets angry at her secretary for little things. And now, Christopher says, one of their clients, another African American man, wants Cassie taken off his case. The client would prefer an African American lawyer. He doesn’t have confidence in a white woman who murdered a black guy after he raped her.

Never is there any mention of the possibility of Cassie being tried for murder. Never is there mention of detectives, police, the press, or psychiatric counseling. Cassie is simply an isolated island that no one can understand. Her response to her rape is to continue working and to take a self-defense class (on the one-in-a-million chance this will happen to her again).

Soon we find out that she’s pregnant from the rape but wants to keep the baby. (“This child did not rape me,” she declares.) Cassie gives Randy an ultimatum: either accept her decision or move out. Randy tries to get her to change her mind. David, who is adamantly prolife, writes her a letter supporting her decision. This opens up a can of worms for Susan and David, because of course Susan is prochoice and feels Cassie should have an abortion. In the true spirit of soap opera, the play reaches a dramatic climax with the surprise appearances of a Mrs. Howard (Paulette McDaniels) and an oversexed photographer named Michelle (Suzanne Friedline).

“Socially relevant” has been a buzzword in the arts for a long time. Nevin has jumped on the bandwagon with A Child Is Born, but he seems to have forgotten that a play has to be interesting before it can be socially relevant. And to be interesting it has to be believable. Not only is Nevin’s plot unconvincing, his dialogue is full of trite phrases like “Something has come between us” and “Why won’t you let anyone help you?” The cast handle these with surprising aplomb, but unfortunately their performances can’t carry the script.