When Mariah MacCarthy found out she was pregnant a few years ago, she knew exactly what to do. A young playwright sharing an apartment in NYC with other struggling millenials, who had neither a relationship with the father nor financial means to raise a child, she went straight to Planned Parenthood and… no, she did not get an abortion. But, that is not the surprise of Baby Mama, MacCarthy’s solo show; anyone in the audience at IRT knows this already: the show is subtitled, One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People. Instead, the big reveal of this very revealing (in all senses of the term) show is that with a sunny disposition, an unshakeable faith in the universe, a supportive network of loving friends and a whole lot of luck, you can sail through one of the most difficult experiences a single woman can face with hardly an anxiety pang or a stretch mark. In fact, by her own admission at the end of the show, MacCarthy is exponentially happier as a result of the experience. That is to say: the experience of carrying an unplanned pregnancy to term and signing the baby over for adoption.
How she did is the subject of this 70-minute monologue, produced at IRT by Caps Lock Theatre. However, the “quest” of the title is misleading; nowhere does MacCarthy have a mission to become a surrogate mother for anyone, nor does she face opposition to her decision to choose a gay couple as the child’s adoption parents (rather, it is MacCarthy’s social worker who connects them). This isn’t a show about civil liberties or gay rights or anything with a lens wider than the size of MacCarthy’s dilating cervix, but, in fact, a lot happens down there.
Indeed, MacCarthy is hardly an ingenue when it comes to sex, as we’ll learn, in frank detail, but she exudes an ingenue’s naive charm that serves her well. Alone on stage in a body-hugging red jumpsuit with an edgy haircut and a huge smile, MacCarthy tells her story in direct, personal terms. We learn everything that happened to her during her pregnancy, from weekly visits to her social worker, Debbie, to group sex parties and how she almost lost her day-job for slacking. Yet, as intimate as much of that information is, her narrative is surprisingly impersonal – or rather she doesn’t take personally any of the things that happen to her, including the pregnancy. She sees that as nothing more upsetting than ordering a latte and being served a macchiato. And – bonus! – she can benefit from it in a variety of ways; for example: 1) she always wanted to know what it would feel like to be pregnant, 2) she can put her health care premiums to work and 3) it turns out a lot of guys out there are turned on by pregnant women.
That isn’t to say that she doesn’t get emotional about her story or that her experience doesn’t become much more difficult than she ever imagined it could; the monologue is split into non-linear vignettes that allow her short breaks to breathe deeply and gulp water, and she gets teary in the finale (albeit, dressed in nothing but pasties and a thong; it’s a tribute to her authenticity as a writer and a performer that she can pull off this number without looking ridiculous). What elicits this feeling isn’t the pregnancy itself but, predictably, the bond she eventually forms with the boy she delivers and has to relinquish to the adopting parents. Yet there again, the universe smiles on her: the couple enthusiastically welcomes her into their new family as an equal member. How often does that happen, you have to wonder?
There are a lot of shows that poke fun at parenthood. As I write this, I receive an email announcing another show promising “the raw truth about what it’s like to have a baby,” and the actress is pictured in sweats guzzling greedily from a bottle of champagne, holding her real baby like a stage prop. I’m sure she’s only kidding about how horrible her experience was and her feelings for her baby, but, rather than mine the ironic vein, MacCarthy tells a straight-up story whose dominant emotion is gratitude: MacCarthy’s gratitude for the love she feels as the mother of Leo, the couple’s gratitude to MacCarthy for the family she created for them, and the gratitude of Leo, one day, who gets three adoring parents and a family with all the necessary means to give him everything he could ever need.
Bonus for us: the monologue also serves as an entertaining PSA on the pros and cons of the adoption process in NYC. I learned a lot: the mother’s benefits, the improbable odds for (and competition among) prospective parents, options like “cradle care” (so that a birth mother can sever ties immediately with the baby, effectively putting it in the care of a wet nurse for the first 30 days but before the mother officially signs custody over to the adopting parents), and more. It is an imperfect, messy process that government and social services try to simplify, control and assist, with unequal outcomes for the lives they intersect.
Anyone considering the choice MacCarthy made will similarly be grateful to her, an optimist with an inexhaustible faith in life, for sharing her story and how it made her a happier and more fulfilled woman and artist in return. Some people are born lucky, and two of them are the subject of Baby Mama.