Breeders: An Eye for an Eye, and a Toe to Be Licked. That’s Parenthood.
To rotate a play back and forth between a young gay couple awaiting the arrival of their new-born baby, and a couple of frisky young hamsters about to welcome some pups into their little cage-world takes some skill and a lot of guts to attempt. It’s a complicated balancing act metaphorically speaking, one that pretty much works for playwright Dan Giles. He’s created a bunch of unique and very individuated characters; a few humans to interact, and two very personable hamsters to watch squabble. All while layering parallels of excitement, love, desire, frustration, and the nervousness that comes with the idea of approaching parenthood.
Playing this all out on a well designed circular platform and an ever- rotating love seat, the two couples interact displaying their high strung dynamics with humor and authentic nervousness. Dean, portrayed by the quirky and very endearing Jacob Perkins, is the future stay at home caregiver of the baby that is on its way. He’s given up his job and career (although we aren’t given a clue what that was, or how much it means to him) to prepare the home for the child that will be theirs any day now. He doesn’t seem to be handling the impending life change all that well, worrying aloud to his straight-laced high school sweetheart boyfriend turned life partner, Mikey, played authentically by the solid Alton Alburo. They are afraid of what’s to come, not surprisingly, but to what levels or extremes is hard to say.
As they prepare to have one of their last Sunday nights watching television together over a bowl of popcorn without the responsibility of parenthood intruding just yet, Dean can’t seem to tear himself away from watching the hamsters they are babysitting. The two hamsters, as it turns out, are not both males, as they were told. It seems, at least by Dean, that they are having sex. And much to Mikey’s disappointment, he can’t seem to lure Dean away from staring endlessly into the cage, and fantasizing the love and attachment he is witnessing.
But we don’t have to just hear about the fantasy that Dean wants to endlessly talk about, because with a whirl of the sofa, and some perfectly playful silhouettes on the curved walls, we get a close up and personal view into that cage and witness Tyson and Jason, the two hamsters having post-coitus conversation. This is not like anything we would imagine in a Disney movie, but not surprisingly, their hamster love story does carry a lot of parallels to Dean and Mikey’s difficulties. Tyson, played impressively by Lea McKenna-Garcia, is the hamster who was thought to be a boy, but turns out to be quite the intense, dominant, and fertile female. She definitely wears the pants in this cage-house and for reasons unsaid, doesn’t want anything to do with the teenage love and devotion that is sprouting from her cute partner’s lips. As the more emotional fragile male, Jason, Fernando Gonzalez is fascinating and clever in his depiction of the adoring emotive male partner, desperate for words of amore from the seemingly pissed off Tyson. It’s clever in its simplicity and funny in its absurdity.
Things start getting further and further complicated as Tyson’s belly begins to grow as fast and furious as Jason’s need for love and attention. Outside the cage, with another quick revolution of that love-seat, the two future father’s aren’t communicating that well either. Fernando Gonzalez and Lea McKenna-Garcia make special guest appearances in the human world in two pretty amazing secondary roles, filled with humor and bite. Especially strong is Gonzalez as the afternoon visitor that alerts us all, including Miley, to Dean’s spiraling neurosis. But eventually, the baby/puppies come, and the stress runs high and wildly all over the place. People and hamsters both seem to mess up, act out, and make some pretty big mistakes as they struggle against some basic urges for freedom, stability, and family. Fights will happen, an eye is lost, and toes are licked, but it’s all in the name of planned/unplanned parenthood, you could say.
As directed by Jaki Bradley, the stories unfold seamlessly, skillfully shifting from one to another and somehow maintaining an authentic yet quirky tone that never seems to fall into ridiculousness. Although the complicated scene change in order for us to see into the bedroom of Mikey and Dean seems unnecessary, awkward, and time-consuming garnering no real payoff, the set by Brian Dudkiewicz, with lighting by Oona Curley and sound design by Ben Vigus works extremely well, along with the solid and inventive costumes by Genevieve V. Beller and creative props by Devin Cortez Lake. But like the bedroom scene that didn’t need to be there, the play lacks a big emotional payoff. The scene with Dean and the surrogate birth mother is exceptional, thanks to a smart and witty characterization by McKenna-Garcia that helps create some what of an interesting construct but not enough to solidify an ending. Some escape the constructions of parenting, while others find that this might have been the thing they were waiting for all along but didn’t know it. Some need to listen to the call of the wild, while others need to just calm the fuck down. That’s about the extent of it. But I am left with one big question: Hey Lake, what are those babies made of that Tyson can so easily make them disappear? I am mystified.