From left, Alexaendrai Bond, Nkechi Emeruwa, Melissa Keith, Darryl V. Jones and Hawlan Ng are excellent in Theater Rhinoceros’ production of “The Call.” (Courtesy David Wilson)

‘The Call’ deftly takes on politics, race, friendship, adoption

Personal and political issues come to the fore in funny, fascinating and provocative ways in “The Call,” a thoroughly engaging play by Tanya Barfield exploring the intricate relationships and challenges facing two contemporary American couples.

In Theatre Rhinoceros’ West Coast premiere onstage at the Eureka Theatre, Jon Wai-keung Lowe sensitively directs an appealing cast: Nkechi Emeruwa and Alexaendrai Bond play Rebecca and Drea, recently married black lesbians, and Melissa Keith and Hawian Ng portray their married friends Annie and Peter. She’s “Wonder Bread” white, he’s Asian.

Much of the action takes place in Annie and Peter’s living room, where the couples meet for meals and chat about their lives, from amusing, quite naturalistic banter about Rebecca and Drea’s recent safari to Africa (how Drea slept through the Jeep breakdown) to Annie and Peter’s news that they’re planning to adopt a baby girl from Africa.

Immediately supportive, Rebecca and the more outspoken Drea joke with blond Annie about how they’ll be happy to help her deal with the child’s hair.

But little by little, the enthusiasm wanes as related issues come to light: Annie and Peter’s extensive, energy-sapping fertility problems; Peter’s connection to Rebecca’s late brother, with whom he volunteered in Africa 15 years earlier; and Annie’s anxiety about the fact that Rebecca tells their African neighbor, Alemu (Darryl V. Jones), that the couple is waiting for a child from Africa. (The country is never mentioned.)

In Act 2, things heat up, particularly for Annie, who is troubled when she finds out that the baby she’s anticipating may not be a baby at all, but an older child, who might come with a name, and a history in Africa.

Her hesitancy, and anger, are exacerbated by politically-charged remarks, such as “You want a child from Africa, but you do not want Africa.” And when Drea mentions that there are plenty of black kids in the U.S., Annie (who at one point says she’s tired of her friend’s self-possessed lesbian exotic chic) comments that African Americans aren’t known for adopting.

With tensions rising and thought-provoking observations (such as when Drea tells Rebecca that Annie’s unease comes from slavery, or “original sin for white folks”) persisting, “The Call” is an astute, engaging, multi-faceted look at the inextricable connections between what’s personal and what’s political.

REVIEW
The Call
Presented by Theatre Rhinoceros
Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes March 12
Tickets: $15 to $35
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.therhino.org

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