There or Here at Park Theatre
There or Here is an interesting play written by Jennifer Maisel in answer to a headline in the LA Times that struck a spark in her imagination: “Wombs for rent. Cheap”. What ensues is a comedic production crafted to tackle this multifaceted subject, exploring the intricacies of commercial surrogacy outsourced to India.
The piece centres on an American heterosexual couple, Ajay (Chris Nayak) and Robyn (Lucy Fenton), who, in the discovering of Robyn’s cancer, seek to begin a family before her treatment. The emotionally charged journey takes us through time and space, through the story of their lives played out on the minimalist stage. The choice of setting is playfully directed in this production by Vik Sivalingam, so viewers shouldn’t be alarmed if they find themselves in an Indian hotel room, or seated on a plane watching Robyn maternally clutch a metallic tube containing her frozen ovaries.
While the narrative on paper is a piece of excellence, what eventuates before our eyes struggles to blend each aspect effectively through the voices of the actors. Moreover, as each character develops, juxtaposition emerges: the whining, ungrateful American couple against the Indian family hosting the surrogacy. While there are moments of redemption for each character, against such a contrast, the themes of There or Here struggle to overcome the boundary of what now seems like a first world problem.
Despite this, the production has its moments of brilliance. Rakhee Thakrar provides honest doses of humour – sometimes playing an unwilling drive-thru attendant, sometimes a quirky Indian tech-support caller pretending to be in Oklahoma. Her true-to-life acting rekindles a spark of mastery on the stage, and her performance briefly makes true the struggle of the couple as they interact with her. Furthermore, humour seems to be the binding force of the piece, as each character’s trait is taken to its extreme to reveal the funny side of our dysfunctional selves.
On the whole, it is unclear what Maisel wants the audience to be left with, which is neither compliment nor insult, but rather a curiosity. The playwright seems to tackle a great magnitude of humanity, that if one could grasp the themes into language it could only be described as a play about mortality, death, human resilience, vice, and the pursuit of some kind of happiness-cum-acceptance of fate. Moreover, with the added layer of holding a light to the issue of commercial surrogacy, There or Here doesn’t appear to address adequately each topic, but rather manages to introduce them all to the fore before the play’s ultimate end. Yet, it is still unknown if this is the intention of the writer, as what better way to tackle this experiential morass of life than to re-create it as it is seen to each of us, and if that is the goal, gratitude must be bestowed upon this ambition.
Photo: Ikin Yum
There or Here is at Park Theatre from 23rd January until 17th February 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.