I had to get past my distaste for the title, but curiosity and positive reviews from colleagues led Walter and me to go and see the play ‘Breeders’ last night, playing at the St. James’ Theatre, Victoria until 4th October.
The basic plot is that Andrea and her wife Caroline decide that they want to complete their successful life by having a baby. But Andrea wants the baby to have her genes, even though Caroline will be the carrying partner, so she asks her brother Jimmy if he would donate sperm. Jimmy agrees and he and his girlfriend Sharon move into the top floor of the couples’ new house in order to provide an instant family for the planned addition. So far so good. In preparation for having a baby around, Sharon, who seems to distrust the idea of parenthood generally, requires Andrea and Caroline to carry around and look after a bag of flour dressed in a strange orange garment and named Mugabe (a dictator, right). Jokes abound around this baby substitute and leading up to the first production of sperm by Jimmy and the insemination of Caroline by Andrea with the aid of an impressive looking kit. Caroline is a family lawyer and tries to get everyone to sign a contract but Jimmy and Andrea are insistent that there is no need as they all trust each other. Don’t they? This, along with Sharon’s clear unhappiness with the whole business of parenthood, Andrea’s strident insistence on strict dietary regimes for both donor and prospective mother plus Caroline’s ambivalence are all indicators of the tensions and breakdown in relationships that are to come. The first half, however, is pretty thin on both plot and characterisation and the addition of strange Swedish Christmas rituals and old pop songs sung partly in Swedish left both Walter and me cold. As the lights went up at the interval I was feeling that this was a pretty amateurish effort (did I mention the technical hitch at the beginning) and could tell that Walter would be happy to leave if I just said the word. I am so glad we stayed.
Just like a football team that has been given a half-time pep-talk by the manager, the second act of this play gave us stronger performances and greater breadth and depth, exploring how the impact of deciding to have a baby this way spreads ripples of disturbance around the main players and into the off-stage wider family and workplaces. How ‘baggage’ from each person’s past can make it’s presence felt in current behaviour and how uncertainty and doubt dog every step. Of course a lot of this applies to donor conception in all family types and some would say to the contemplation of parenthood in general, but in the case of a lesbian couple there is the constant need to explain and ‘come out’ over and over again as well as the imperative to find the missing biological ingredient.
This very frank and funny play isn’t always completely accurate about the information it gives…actually any contract signed between donor and recipient would not be binding on a court in the future; why on earth didn’t they get Jimmy tested for sperm count and morphology and STIs before starting inseminations (turns out his sperm is not so good and IVF is needed and in the meantime he gives Caroline an infection), but it does cover an awful lot of the very complex questions that are raised by creating a family this way and the see-sawing of feelings that is an integral part of the donor conception process, whether or not the donor is known and whatever the type of family it is. Shame there wasn’t more talk about how the child might feel, but highly recommended nevertheless, particularly for those people thinking about choosing a donor known to them.