For some people, giving birth and becoming a parent is the most beautiful experience in life. There are unfortunately women who are unable to carry a baby to term and so turn to surrogacy. In Jane Cafarella’s e-baby, inspired by interviews with infertile women and surrogates who share their stories online, we meet an accomplished lawyer who has been trying unsuccessfully for her own child for seven years. She finds a surrogate to carry her baby and we follow the relationship of these two women over the course of the pregnancy.
Both Carolyn Bock (Catherine) and Sarah Ranken (Nellie) do a solid job in portraying the often-tense relationship between these two women. Whilst it initially and naturally took a few scenes for them to appear comfortable with their characters on the preview night of e-baby, their performances feel realistic and honest. Bock finds the right balance in showing a woman who is excited about the prospect of being a mother but also depicting the desperation and shame that she would feel in fear of being seen as less of a woman. She does this both subtly and powerfully through the most miniscule of actions: a fleeting stare, a taut smile and a twitching, fidgety hand. I would have liked to see her more emotive however, in the moments where Catherine appears at her weakest and most frustrated.
Ranken similarly finds her stride as the somewhat chaotic but laid-back surrogate, Nellie. The vlogs she posts online to her surrogate community are used as a confessional for the Christian mother of two to express her doubts and uncertainties about being a first-time surrogate. Ranken organically brings to surface Nellie’s naivety in not fully comprehending what she has agreed to, and the conflict this then provokes with her religious beliefs.
Cafarella’s script examines the ‘forced’ friendship between these women, and the profound difficulties that each face after signing such a contract become apparent. The few repetitive scenes can be forgiven due to Cafarella’s tackling of the subject so sensitively and expertly, which is no surprise considering she has been exploring and writing about surrogacy for over 25 years.
There appears to have been great collaboration by production designer Matilda Woodroofe, lighting designer Siobhain Geaney, video designer Brian Cohen and sound designer Kahra Scott-James, as the various technical elements of e-baby come together well in building on the emotions of the characters, but never detract from the characters’ stories or leave us feeling overwhelmed. The poignant illumination of a pregnant woman on to the set’s wooden boxes was particularly effective in showing Catherine’s yearning for motherhood.
e-baby is a good character piece about two women who form an unlikely bond through the blurred lines of commercial surrogacy. The preview performance shows that there is a lot of heart and thought in this work from everyone involved, but the play stays resolutely away from sentimentality to bring to stage an affecting story that is all too real and sad for many people.
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Season: Until 15 March | Wed - Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $4o Full | $35 Conc
Booking: Chapel Off Chapel
* Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 8 March.