Since 1997, Profile Theatre has occupied a special place in the hearts of Portland theatre-goers. Its mission is to produce a season of plays devoted to a single playwright, “engaging with our community to explore that writer’s vision and influence on theatre and the world at large”.
This year, Profile features the work of Tanya Barfield, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright (for her play Blue Door) who calls Portland her home town.
The first play of the season, The Call, deals with a pressing domestic issue. Annie (Amanda Soden) and Peter (Tom Walton) want to have a baby, and they’re getting nowhere. At a dinner gathering with their best friends Rebecca (Anya Pearson) and Drea (Chantal DeGroat), the issue comes up, interspersed with their friends’ excited talk of Africa.
Peter has bad memories of Africa, going back to his days as a volunteer there and the death of his friend David. But, as the conversation turns to adoption, Africa comes up again. It is much faster and easier to adopt a child from Africa than from China, and Annie wanted that baby yesterday.
But in plays as in life, often the best-laid plans go sideways. The adoption plans do not go as planned, and people are unhappy. Annie wants a baby. Peter wants to forget about Africa and what happened there. The friends are nonplussed. And then another character, the next door neighbor, Alemu (Jasper Howard) shows up with gifts for his people in Africa. And suddenly this little play about a nice, middle-class, infertile American couple turns into a story about something much bigger.
In Tanya Barfield’s world, there are problems more pressing than comfortable people who want things, the importance of babies notwithstanding. Her world includes continents of forgotten people, situations we’d rather not think about, things the news media often ignores. And her voice is very, very clear.
The Call runs through February 21 at Profile Theatre. It is brilliantly directed by Gemma Whelan, who recently directed Broomstick at Artists Repertory Theatre.