In these ever changing days of what it is to be a family, we are seeing more and more portrayals in entertainment of same sex couples raising children. Such is the case with the latest endeavor from fledgling theater company Arouet with Christi Stewart-Brown's "The Gene Pool". And while the play itself doesn't really have anything groundbreaking or even new to say about families, same sex or otherwise, the production here infuses it with an engaging pace and contains some truly natural and honest performances.
The story is simple. Lesbian couple Mira and Claire Gray (Amelia Meckler and Colleen Carey) are doing their best to raise their nearly 18 year old son Peter (Kyle Johnson). Peter has some of the average worries of a teenage boy. When will he lose his virginity? Will his Moms let him get that motorcycle he has his eye on? And most importantly, will they embarrass him in front of his new girlfriend, Paige (Zandi Carlson)? But when questions start to arise about Peter's Dad, the sperm donor Harold (Bruce Erickson), not to mention some issues of fidelity, this average family is thrown into a tailspin.
Like I said, nothing earth shattering here. It's a story we've heard a million times before even in some main stream movies like the recent "The Kids are Alright". But it wasn't the play choice or story that impressed me with this production it was what they did with it. Director Roy Arauz has taken these characters and made sure they were not stereotypes or caricatures but that they simply showed a family you could see anywhere. And his direction and pacing made this commonplace situation engaging and alive.
Carlson and Erickson have little to do in the show as they are not in it that much but still manage to make their characters quite fun. The lion's share of the show goes to the trio playing the family and each of them takes their characters and makes them shine. Meckler is delightful as the bubbly house wife trying to make sure her family is happy and attended to. But beyond that she manages some wonderful moments of angst and betrayal when secrets come out. Johnson is endearing as the well raised teen just trying to cope with having the "cool" parents. And I was quite impressed with Carey as the stoic Claire. All of the performances came across as quite real but Carey seemed to take her character to a place of incredible subtle honesty. She reminded me of one of my favorite actresses, Cate Blanchett and not just physically but in her ability to effortlessly disappear into a role.
So while Arouet's examination of a family with same sex parents may not have provoked any epiphanies, the performances are well worth the trip. But maybe that was the point of the production. Families, are families, it's what you do with them that matters.
"The Gene Pool" from Arouet plays at Annex Theatre on Capitol Hill through June 19th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.arouet.us.
Photo credit: Michael Brunk