A lesbian couple in search of a sperm donor. Well, not just any sperm donor. The perfect sperm donor. How hard could it be? Ask Natalie Meisner, she could tell you. You might say, in fact, that she’s an expert on the subject.
Enjoying its world premiere at Lunchbox Theatre, Meisner’s Speed Dating for Sperm Donors is a fun dramatized account of the playwright and her partner’s experience in trying to start family.
Helen (Julie Orton) and Paige (Janelle Cooper) are ready to have a baby. Unfortunately, Helen’s best friend has said no to being the sperm donor. This sets the couple off on a journey to find the perfect sperm donor; perfect as defined by a very strict set of criteria. Helen and Paige’s search turns up a lot of ‘duds’ like a Russian physicist (Mark Bellamy) keen on eugenics, and a recovering sex addict (Christian Goutis). Eventually, the couple’s relationship begins to suffer as their unfruitful search leads to doubt and frustration.
As much as the play sets out to be about the couple and their journey, the story is really about Helen. We do not hear much from Paige beyond her reactionary responses that support Helen’s character arc rather than help support one of her own. On the one hand, it makes sense considering that the play is based off Meisner’s non-fiction book Double Pregnant which is written from her point of view. On the other, however, this is a dramatization that – according to the Playwright’s Notes – seeks to play with and flesh out “the dramatic potential” of Meisner’s autobiography. That is why it is so strange that Meisner chooses to narrow the play’s perspective rather than expand it in a work of fiction.
Perhaps though it is a limitation inherent to adapting non-fiction for the stage. There could be nothing more exposing, after all, than having one’s life story played out in front of a live audience. And as a result, there may be a fear/worry on the playwright’s part of misrepresenting and/or overstepping the personal boundaries of those involved in real events.
Where Meisner does hit the mark is in her application of humour to approach (and widen) the conversation surrounding LGBT families. While she may achieve this by playing into certain stereotypes, Meisner does it in such a way that reflects a sharp self-awareness on her part. The playwright is able to venture out into the ‘two-dimensional’, then bring it back to something sincere. In doing so, she entertains (which may ease some into the conversation), and then uses humour as a means to illuminate and establish a common ground with the audience.
Meisner’s revolving door of quirky characters, though, does wear thin after awhile. The first few characters are fun, but then the later character scenarios – especially the one Meisner throws in as misdirection – stall the pace of the play.
Thankfully, Bellamy and Goutis are strong enough in these roles that the play does not completely drag in its last thirty minutes. (Bellamy has an infectious charm that lights up the stage).
While very funny and clever at times, Speed Dating for Sperm Donors does feel as though it could go further to explore its more serious, dramatic elements. Pacing issues also stifle Meisner’s comedic wit, but great character work by the actors help keep the play light-hearted and enjoyable.
Lunchbox Theatre’s Speed Dating for Sperm Donors runs Feb 2 – 21, 2015.
For information on the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/calendar/2015/2/2/speed-dating-for-sperm-donors-by-natalie-meisner?view=calendar