By Sam Affoumado
When given the option of making difficult choices that may benefit society, or returning to the personal comfort of our everyday lives, what should one do? What would be the right thing to do? Would we maintain the status quo? Or would we take the plunge and remain true to our beliefs?
Playwright Bennett Windheim attempts to tackle these questions in his play Normalcy directed by Benard Cummings for the Theatre East production, which opened Wednesday September 5th at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on West 42nd Street. His tale concerns themes of identity, race, nationalism, marriage, parenthood, liberalism and the media viewed through the lens of one affluent Caucasian couple, who are attempting to make the difficult choice of adopting a black child. Their journey reveals the unexpected consequences the choice has on their happy and complacent existence.
Normalcy takes an honest, though often tedious, look at trans-racial
adoption, from the vantage point of white prospective parents and
their family members, along with co-workers, social workers and even tran-sracially adopted adults. The complex pros and cons of trans-racial adoption are all there, stated and overstated by the passionate cast. Unfortunately, the characters often take a back seat to the issues and the overwritten dialogue sometimes becomes tiresome. The main plot of adopting a black child is not introduced until late in the first act when Mr. Windheim’s heart-felt play finally gathers momentum.
The Ehrlichs, Peter (Judson Jones) and his wife Sarah (Aleisha Force) are workaholics. He is a successful Ad Man with the great log lines, and she is a rising star in the fashion magazine world. When we first encounter
the couple entertaining Peter’s father, Jules (Harvey Guion), and Sarah’s
mother, Marta (Mary Ann Hay), Peter and Sarah claim to be more
than just content with their active, successful lives. So the turn of events in a later scene when they disclose they are going to adopt a child, specifically an African-American one, is surprising.
The supporting cast members have opinions about why trans-racial adoption is or isn’t right for the Ehrlichs or for any couple planning to do the same thing. Solange (Sarah Joyce), Peter’s ad agency assistant, admires him and is always supportive of his decisions. Ms. Joyce embodies both the innocent and seductive nature of Solange with complete honesty. Catherine, (Darlene Hope), the adoption agency social worker, and Aiesha, (Lisha Mckoy) are standouts. Ms. Hope captures and balances the humorous moments with the more serious, confrontational segments. She asks the hard questions and gives the couple (and the audience) much to think about. Ms. Mckoy’s portrayal of a young African-American raised by a loving white couple is gut wrenching. Her character forces us to examine the other side of the argument. Are the adoptive children being deprived of their cultural identity? Despite the best intentions is trans-racial adoption doing them a terrible disservice?
There are many powerful scenes in Normalcy, and the stellar performances by Aleisha Force and Judson Jones are compelling. They create space for the audience to care about their complex, introspective characters despite their inherent contradictions. Will they succeed in their efforts to adopt? Will their marriage and careers survive the ordeal?
Mr. Windheim’s play, though heavy-laden with many uncomfortable
issues, allows us to think and feel. His story has depth, and you can’t
possibly leave the theater without being touched by his ideas and
honesty. The result is a refreshing play that forces us to examine our own values and beliefs.
The production, under the direction of Benard Cummings, affords us the opportunity to be enlightened as well as entertained. This performance was followed by a “talk-back” with the playwright furthering the discussion about the play’s issues. Future “talk-backs” will be announced.
The set by Lea Anello is more than adequate to depict multiple scene
locations. Composer and Sound Designer Scott O’Brien has created
a score that complements the thoughtful nature of the evening.
Presented by Theatre East at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W.
42nd St., NYC. Sept. 5th–22nd. Wed.–Sat., 7 p.m. (212) 279-4200 or
Photos: James Wilson
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