This March and April, the LGBTQ-centric Nothing Without a Company presents The Kid Thing by Sarah Gubbins, directed by Jake Fruend. Performed in the intimate setting of the North Mansion of Berger Park Cultural Center, this play about the complicated questions of queer parenthood in the twenty-first century marks the first time Nothing Without a Company, which usually develops new works, has produced a published play. This engaging, thought-provoking story of four remarkably different women facing the question of when, how, and if to have kids offers a detailed look at a complicated subject.
Two lesbian couples, Darcy & Leigh and Nate & Margot, are long-time best friends who consider one another to be adopted family. But when Nate and Margot announce Margot’s pregnancy, it tears open a rift between Darcy and Leigh as the two women express deeply different opinions on the subject of whether or not they should raise a child together. Circumstances become even more complicated when Leigh begins courting Jacob, Nate and Margot’s sperm donor, to be her and Darcy’s sperm donor as well.
The Kid Thing was written in 2009, and although some significant shifts have happened in the eight years since—gay marriage is legal in all fifty states, for example, and federal law prohibits discrimination against same-sex couples adopting—many of the questions and issues the women of The Kid Thing face remain relevant today. When our only model for how parenting works is in the context of heterosexual marriage, how are queer couples to know what raising a family should look like for them? The script is well-constructed and intelligent; aside from a borderline cliché infidelity plotline, the story is fresh and engaging. Gubbins’ characters are unique, flawed, and vividly compelling.
Nothing Without A Company describes the production as intimate and immersive, and intimate it certainly is. From the front row, I was close enough that if I wanted to, I could have leaned over and grabbed a cookie off the tray set downstage (and I was not the only audience member who had this thought, I learned at intermission). As for immersive, it’s not a totally inaccurate description, though to me that term indicates a specific type of theatre that this isn’t—one in which the audience members move around the space, and the storytelling is neither uniform nor linear.
The set occupies multiple rooms, although this seems unnecessary. The kitchen is mostly used for yelling as though from another room (which could be just as easily done from a backstage area), and the other living space is used for about a scene and a half total. The way the audience is arranged, this secondary room is head-on for part of the audience and requires a ninety-degree neck rotation for everyone else. Specific blocking qualms aside, however, the play gains something by taking place in an actual house and in such an intimate venue. It’s an intimate piece; the issues it tackles are deeply personal, and the small space allows the audience to physically enter the private lives of the characters just as the script allows them to enter their lives emotionally.
The actors all give solid performances. Samantha Michelle Nava is both sweet and fiercely determined as Leigh; Nothing Without A Company co-artistic director Anna Rose Ii-Epstein’s sincerity, charm, and forward energy make Nate’s enthusiasm about the pregnancy infectious; Taylor R. Craft brings sophistication and subtlety to the intellectual Margot; and Gabriel Fries is a charismatic Jacob. But the most noteworthy performance is that of Chicago newcomer Shalyn Welch as Darcy; Welch makes outstanding use of subtext and tells Darcy’s story through the things she does not say as much as the things she does.
Costume design by Alaina Moore does an excellent job of conveying information about both the characters’ personalities and their differing gender presentations. The props and set design also add personal touches to the space that make it feel like it really is someone’s home.
The Kid Thing does what far too few plays do: examines the lives of queer women through a thoughtful, contemporary lens. With intriguing characters, complex issues, and an intimate performance space, seeing this play makes for two hours well spent.
Location: North Mansion of Berger Park Cultural Center. 6205 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago, Illinois.
Dates: Thursday, March 16, 2017 – Saturday, April 15, 2017
Times: Thursday to Sunday every week at 7:30 pm
Tickets: $20. Tickets are available at the Nothing Without a Company website.
All photos by Christopher Semel.