Fresh Ink Theatre kicks off its sophomore season with Ginger Lazarus’ satirical take on reproductive science, Biblical literalism, nature versus nurture, and the whole messy notion of responsible parenthood.
With The Embryos, Lazarus has written a wry, pungently funny play in which two globs of cells escape deep freeze, grow to human-scale size, and take on the world. Leggo (Louse Hamill) and her twin brother Eggo (Phil Berman) cannot be understood by others -- they speak their own slurry, cellular language, the language of blastocysts evidently -- but they are driven by specific appetites. Namely, they want food, lots of it; and they want reality TV fame, preferably as singers.
Parents Mommy (Gillian Mackay-Smith) and Daddy (Terrence P. Haddad) are clueless, each in his or her own way. They’ve been through heartbreak as fertility treatments fail them time after time; their quest to become parents seems doomed until Leggo and Eggo miraculously break free of their frozen, microscopic existence. Once confronted with the realities of parenthood, the fault lines in their marriage begin to widen: Daddy is none too certain that these "children" actually qualify as offspring, while Mommy (literally) conceive of no other way of seeing these two ravenous blobs but as her beautiful babies... even after they mail order a cache of automatic weapons and go on a rampage.
Perhaps no play before has pulled so many parental anxieties and night terrors into a single play, and made the entire undertaking seem so uproarious. The cast is perfect; Hamill’s aggressive, even sociopathic Leggo is the smarter of the two embryos, goading her brother into more and more outrageous acts in the name of self-expression. Berman, for his part, is stylishly goofy: His dialogue is even more slurred and mashed than that of his sister, but his physical expressiveness carries his role effectively.
Mackay-Smith brings a deranged energy to her part, making Mommy seem insufferably self-justified even as her maternal desires draw her into piteous delusion. Even when she unleashes some jolting bit of dialogue (as when she refers to fossils as fakes "planted by the Jews" to confuse Christians), her wide-eyed devotion to motherhood almost seems wholesome, if badly skewed. Haddad’s gradually building fear and panic is accomplished degree by hilarious degree; as his world starts to collapse, you can see him gathering himself for some sort of drastic action quite out of keeping with his moderate, even timid, mode of existence. Like Mommy, he seems to be approaching some sort of breaking point, though in his case it’s work (where revolution is stirring among lab-specimen rabbits) as much as parenthood that’s pushing him past his tolerance level.
Tasia A. Jones rounds out the cast in triple capacity, playing a reproductive health physician driven to distraction by Mommy and Daddy, a pizza delivery woman and prospective nanny to the hungry tots, and a prosecutor. When the play’s cleverly constructed plot loops and closes in a fatal trap, Jones strikes exactly the right tone.
This is one of those rare and celebrated plays that fused the absurd and the serious into one elegantly written whole. Director Dawn M. Simmons knows what she has here, and draws the play’s subtler hues and shades up to the same manic level as its narrative excesses.
"The Embryos" continues through Dec. 15 at the Factory Theatre. Tickets cost $20 general admission. For more information, please visit freshinktheatre.com