A man in blue nurse's scrubs is left. A woman seated, holding a baby wrapped in blankets, sits center. A woman in nurse's scrubs looks over her shoulder on the right.
From left: Lee Wichman, Kat Evans, and Maria Zoia in Emma's Child at City Lit Theater Credit: Steve Graue

Kristine Thatcher’s drama about a couple adopting (or not adopting, as it turns out) a child born with profound disabilities kickstarted Thatcher’s profile as a playwright in its 1996 Victory Gardens premiere. It’s back at City Lit, once again under Terry McCabe’s direction. And while some parts don’t hold up well, the production builds to a poignant conclusion, studded with hard relationship truths along the way.

Jean (Kat Evans) and Henry (James Sparling) are a couple edging into middle age, desperate to adopt. Well, Jean more than Henry, whose list of preferences (white, a girl, no disabilities) seems almost designed to stop the process cold. That happens anyway when single mom Emma (Katie MacLauchlan) delivers Robin, who is born with profound hydrocephalus and a very poor prognosis. Emma, a working-class woman with another young child at home, leaves Robin in the hospital with a DNR and the adoption is off the table.

Emma’s Child
Through 5/29: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, also Mon 5/16 and 5/23, 7:30 PM; City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, 773-293-3682, citylit.org, $34 ($29 seniors, $12 students/military).

But Jean in particular finds herself drawn more and more to the tiny boy, and with the help of acerbic but kind nurse Laurence (Lee Wichman) and sweet nurse’s aide Mary Jo (Maria Zoia), she takes on the role of mother-without-portfolio. Meantime, Henry and his best friend Sam (Jamie Black) spend a camping trip lamenting the ways their relationships with the women in their lives have shifted. Sam’s wife, Franny (Rebecca Sparks), is having an affair, and Henry feels supplanted by Jean’s fierce devotion to Robin.

At heart, Emma’s Child isn’t about the ethics of adoption (though those questions are implicit). It’s about opening up to love even when you can see mortality standing in the road ahead. Though City Lit’s production has some first-act hiccups, when it settles into the groove, it’s a bittersweet journey.