In ‘Samsara,’ many surprising incarnations of life
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Whatever your thoughts might be about artificial insemination, surrogate births and all the other engineered wonders of modern science aimed at producing children, it is an almost certain bet you will be rooting for the arrival of Amit, the hilariously funny “genius fetus” brought to vivid, pulsating life by actor Behzad Dabu in Lauren Yee’s darkly whimsical play, “Samsara.”
Not since the “in utero” appearance of twins in Noah Haidle’s “Smokefall” have the unborn been so happily ornery and wildly entertaining. But unlike those twins, Amit in many respects defies the laws of nature. And that is part of the not-so-hidden message in Yee’s play, now receiving its world premiere at Victory Gardens Theater under the zesty, playful direction of Seth Bockley.
When: Through March 8
Where: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln
Info: (773) 871-3000; victorygardens.org
Run time: 95 minutes with no intermission
The play’s title is the Sanskrit word for the repeating cycle of birth, life and death, including all the existences that stretch back before birth and on into future incarnations. But in many ways, Yee is more interested in the here and now, possessing a perfectly politically correct sense of injustice and “Western imperialism” that fits predictably into Victory Gardens’ mission.
It all begins in northern California, where a fairly average, cash-strapped couple — the rather feckless but decent Craig (Joe Dempsey) and the quite neurotic Katie (Lori Myers) — are desperate to have a child but can’t seem to make it happen. Craig seems to be impotent, and Katie, whose biological clock is ticking loudly, is unable to carry a child. So despite their somewhat rocky relationship and limited funds, they decide to go the surrogacy route.
The pair fill out all the forms and answer an inane questionnaire on video, and upon approval they send the necessary biological material to India, where a rather shabbily run operation attracts mostly poor women who see surrogacy as their only way out of poverty, even if it is deeply problematic on many levels. The clinic is overseen by an arrogant French doctor (Jeff Parker, ideal in the mode of a contemporary Louis Jourdan, the actor who just died at age 93) who has profited immensely from the business.
In this case, the woman who will serve as the self-described “microwave” for the couple’s “pregnancy” is Suraiya (the exceptionally lovely Arya Daire, in a performance of ideally calibrated emotion). She is something of an unusual candidate as not only will this be her first pregnancy (despite the “requirement” that she already has given birth to at least one child), but she is doing the whole thing to make enough money to pay for medical school.
The complications along the way are many and varied — both real and full of a sort of East-meets-West magical realism. Without revealing too much here, Craig heads to India to meet the surrogate and await the birth. Katie, who suffers from a fear of flying and is in need of passion from a French lover (who might just be supplying more than a fantasy), remains at home.
But it is the conversation between surrogate mother and unborn child — some of it acerbic, some of it poignant, all of it hugely engaging — that shows Yee at her sparkling best. And, dressed in kneepants, Dabu, with his athletic grace, boyish impulsiveness and brilliant comic instincts, easily steals the show as the playwright’s most wondrous and precocious character. According to the laws of biology, this boy should have been white, but as it happens, he possesses the ethnic identity of the woman who is to bear him. Food for thought.