Reviews Off-Broadway Published 22 April 2013

The Call

Playwrights Horizons ⋄ 22nd March - 26th May 2013

Exploring cross-cultural adoption.

Richard Patterson

Certainty, in many regards, eludes the subjects of Tanya Barfield’s affecting new play The Call, now playing at Playwrights Horizons in a co-production with Primary Stages. When Annie and Peter, a white couple living in a metropolitan area, decide they’d like to have a baby (they can’t biologically conceive), first they turn to domestic adoption — though they worry the birth mother that’s been chosen for them might pull out at the last minute, as they’ve heard can sometimes happen, so they ultimately back out.

Their next step, naturally, is adopting a child already in the system. As globally conscious potential parents with ties to Africa (Peter traveled there extensively before marrying Annie), they decide to adopt a baby from overseas, hoping to provide some stability for a child who may have seen more suffering than they can imagine.

At first, Annie and Peter gain support from their African-American lesbian friends, Rebecca and Drea. Rebecca, whose brother David was Peter’s traveling companion in Africa, offers to braid the baby’s hair to Annie’s ever-so-slight chagrin. Though the love between these two couples is evident from the ease of their conversations, tensions, some racial, crackle below the surface.

When Annie finally gets “the call” of the play’s title, informing her that there’s a baby ready for adoption, her first response is one of rapturous joy; then comes a photo text message with the baby’s picture. The baby, two-and-a-half according to the adoption agency, looks closer to four. The number four sets off Rebecca’s instincts that, by that age, there may have been trauma suffered by the child. From this point on, Annie’s wracked with indecision over whether to adopt the child, her decision made all the more difficult by Peter’s steadfast belief that they’d do well to adopt any child that needs a home and that, circumstances being what they are, the baby is meant to be theirs.

What works so extraordinarily well about The Call is its ability to hold an audience in the palm of its hand, unsure at any given time which spouse with whom to side. Both Annie (Kerry Butler, nuanced) and Peter (Kelly AuCoin) elicit our sympathy and our anger alternately, but each actor turns in a multifaceted performance, as do Eisa Davis and Crystal A. Dickinson as Rebecca and Drea respectively; this couple’s complex relationship feels about as lived-in as a years-old sweater, and Barfield does well to allow not just issues of race and class to come into play but also sexuality and gender. If the play’s final third throws the audience for perhaps too much of a loop in indulging its offstage subplots instead of its main protagonists, the issues it raises are nonetheless riveting ones, and the pace never slackens as a result.

Leigh Silverman’s straightforward production places most of the action in a revolving household set (by Rachel Hauck) that fluidly moves between rooms, namely Annie and Peter’s living room and the baby’s room, with occasional excursions outside the house. One such excursion brings Annie in contact with her black neighbor, Alemu (Russell G. Jones), a friendly oddball who offers Annie advice in the form of an African folktale and who begins packing items from his apartment in boxes to send overseas with Annie and Peter when they visit Africa. It’s Alemu who’s given one of the play’s knockout lines, directed at Annie: “You want a child from Africa but you do not want Africa.” It’s this tension between good intentions and reality that drives The Call and which makes it such an effective play. The questions it raises are the kind that confront adoptive parents and, in some cases, parents in general. Some of those questions linger for days after experiencing this taut, expressive play.


Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.

The Call Show Info

Directed by Leigh Silverman

Written by Tanya Barfield

Cast includes Kelly AuCoin, Kerry Butler, Eisa Davis, Crystal A. Dickinson, Russell G. Jones


Running Time 1 hr, 45 min (with one intermission)



Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.