BWW Reviews: For the Love of a Child
Parents do not have to be told to provide unconditional love and care to the children they bring into this world, nor do they have to be reminded of the treasure they covet when these children bring mostly joy and laughter into a home that once belonged only to them. Even though much of their lifestyle has been drastically changed because of these treasures, as all attention and responsibility is now directed at their wellbeing, this love cannot be disputed as something other than beautiful. Now, does the same hold true when a child is not one's own? After seeing the opening night performance of The Sun Shines East at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre, there is little doubt as to this holding true, and the struggle of one couple to adopt a baby, to whom they have already given their undying love and affection upon first holding her, makes for a beautiful, heartfelt story that deems the presence of children in our lives that much more precious.
Presented by Shining East Productions and directed by Pat Golden, The Sun Shines East is based on a true story - that of the show's playwright, Corinne Chateau, and her husband Bryan Hickey - that was previously documented by Chateau in her book, The Road to Cali, a Journey to Motherhood. Both also serve as co-producers of this production. This being a true story not only makes the play that much more poignant, but it also proves that there are certain people in this world that are willing to go above and beyond for the sake of another, especially for a child not even their own.
This is so comforting to know, as many people cannot fathom going through such difficulty, both mental and physical, to bring a child home and provide it with the love it may never have otherwise received. Such stories certainly deserve to be shared with others, as Corinne's and Bryan's experiences are so farfetched and incredible, especially in a world where everything is fast paced and instant; having to wait for or anticipate everything is not what everyone these days is about. This couple's story certainly deserves to be shared with the world, and Chateau's choice to not only write about her endeavor to adopt a child, but then present it on stage before an audience in this particular style, is just so different; I have never really seen it done before.
The Sun Shines East, set in the 1990's, tells the story of Christine (played by the very emotional Amy Staats) and her husband Robert (Bristol Pomeroy) who, after trying many times to have a child, ultimately decide it is best for them to adopt. Christine chooses an agency that will help them in their quest to find a child, and stumbles upon Dodo (Karen Christie-Ward), the woman who has found them a little girl in the Republic of Georgia to bring home. Christine is beyond happy, yet throughout the play becomes incredibly unsure about whether raising a child is truly something she would like to do. Her husband is clearly less enthused about this than she is, and as they are both actors, it would be increasingly difficult to either to take time off from their busy schedules to take care of a baby. Christine decides that she is ready for this child, as she may never have one of her own. So, husband and wife set off for Georgia, see baby "Claire," and are incredibly eager to return home with her.
Unfortunately, the country has just come out of civil war, and with an unstable government with its impending laws that can potentially ban international adoptions, Christine and Robert are unaware of the devastating struggles they will have to face in order to take this sickly baby away from her home country. (Just to put this in a clearer context, international adoptions from the Republic of Georgia were banned by President Eduard Shevardnadze in 1997, only to be overruled in 2003 and then brought back by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012 to ban only U.S. adoptions.) Gradually, though, the couple is able to adopt baby Claire, and even Christine's mother (Mary Francina Golden) decides to begin the process of reconciliation with her estranged daughter. This story does have its happy ending.
Ukrainian-American actress Tara Gadomski also stars in this production.
Now, when I said before that the foundation of this show is quite different from other plays based on actual and/or personal events, what do I mean by a different style? Well, just to observe the basic structure of this play and all this story consists of doesn't make a person think of this story as a whole, but instead in increments - small pieces that, when placed together, create a great play on so many levels. Firstly, just think of how eerie a feeling it must be for the playwright to be in the audience on any performance day, watching her life acted out by others who can only begin to comprehend what this couple had to endure in order to guarantee that its child would finally come home. Although /Chateau originally adopted a baby boy instead of a girl, what is depicted upon that stage isn't any less accurate or affecting; indeed, watching exactly what happened unfold on stage would hardly make this a dramatic play, and would be more like watching a flashback instead of portraying the mental anguish experienced when adopting this child.
The fact that The Sun Shines East is a true story, later turned into a book and finally transformed into a play, makes this process so interesting to witness. There was definitely enough support from the audience, as everyone reacted to each moment of anger, surprise, sadness and heartache present in this story's plot; the audience actually gasped at certain points, which is always a sign that people are paying attention, eager to see what the next moment will hold. Presenting this on stage allows this audience to see a retelling of a story that will forever be with the playwright and her husband, and to see this unfold as a play must be no less than surreal.
The next point to be made about the unique quality of this play concerns its focus, and how it goes about portraying certain characters throughout the show. This play revolves mostly around the couple's desire to see their adoptive daughter brought back to the United States to begin a life with her new parents, but surrounding this is the Republic of Georgia's government and political policies; this serves as the conflict in this play. This is mirrored by Christine's rocky relationship with her mother which, on a more personal level, corresponds with the conflicts faced by the Georgian people and their wayward government. In addition to all of this, there is another topic of interest: that of the safety and wellbeing of those Georgian children who are not adopted, and therefore subject to neglect and mistreatment in orphanages meant for those unwanted by others.
Corinne Chateau actually speaks about this in an interview featured on the website Theater in the Now and posted by Michael Block, explaining how "The Sun Shines East...is a cry, a plea for the abandoned and unwanted children of the world. It is an urgent call to action as children continue to be used as pawns by politicians throughout the world. If we do not speak up for them, who will?"
Lastly, there is a rather personal connection of those responsible for this production with its subject matter. We know that Corinne Chateau has based The Sun Shines East on her own experience adopting a boy from the Republic of Georgia roughly seventeen years ago, but producer and cast member Mary Francina Golden is also the adoptive mother of two girls, and helps to bring about the inspiration which comes about when choosing to care for a child not one's own - in her case, two! The fact that there is such a bond amongst the cast members and production team - one which strengthens the message of this play by so promoting and believing in a single important cause - creates this feeling of "family" which clearly comes to define this show. This isn't really seen very often in shows, this dedication to the subject matter as based on personal experience. As the playwright states about the intent behind this play (in a way that nicely sums up what The Sun Shines East is truly about), "My journey to adopt a child was so wonderful and difficult and challenging, it was so full of synchronicities and miracles, and it was so life changing that I wanted to tell the world of my experience" (Block). This was something quite unique that I wanted to mention.
Overall, this show was inspiring. It has a very different quality to it, which possibly comes about in its transition from book to stage. Although the production itself was simple in regards to the setting, lighting, etc., there are moments throughout the play when one would think this story would possibly fare better in its written form. It was an interesting concept upon which to base a play, and it did work. The heartwarming message was conveyed by the brilliant acting on stage, and one can see that there was much effort put into this production.
A show like this is not really meant for a big theatre, catering to an audience who came to see a show for its more entertaining aspects; it has truly found its proper home on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where it will most likely draw crowds that will be intrigued by the story of Robert and Christine, and their triumph in not only winning the daughter they never had, but the life that they could only have dreamed of before that moment.
The Sun Shines East began on January 31st, and will continue thru February 16th for a total of fourteen performances. The show's schedule is as follows: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays @ 2 p.m. The show is playing at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre, which is actually associated with the Upper West Side Y and is located at 10 West 64th Street. Tickets are only $18, and may be purchased either by calling (212) 352. 3101, or by visiting https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/931176. The show runs approximately 90 minutes without an intermission. For more information, please visit Theatermania.com.
Photo Credit: John FitzGibbon
Interview Credit: Block, Michael. "Spotlight on Corinne Chateau." Theater in the Now, 28, Jan. 2014.