In today's age of medical miracles, it can be easy to forget that doctors can't save everyone from the miseries of illness. We take our loved ones to hospitals expecting everything to turn out fine in the end. When things don't work out, we're often shocked at the painful truth that science, for all its godlike ambitions, can't save us all.
Rutherford Cravens's sorrowful script Wondergirl, now running at Main Street Theater, is a sweet and painful reminder of that truth. Cravens, one of Houston's most exciting actors, has put his talents to paper and come up with a simple story that explores the ways science and the human heart collide when a baby is born prematurely. This play tells the story of one couple figuring out how best to love their daughter, who clings to life in an intensive care unit.
When we first meet Jenny (Shannon Emerick) and Hal (David Wald), Jenny is in labor. The problem is that her pregnancy isn't far enough along. The gynecologist tries to stop the process with chemistry but warns the young couple to be ready for the worst. What follows is a long series of terrible choices by parents dealing with doctors who don't always know what's best for their patients. The physician who runs the neonatal intensive care unit is smart, even brilliant, but he's often more interested in his own medical experiments than in what his patients need. We watch Jenny and Hal move through fear, desperation, hope and deeply felt longing as their baby goes through operation after operation, all in hopes of prolonging her life. But even if the child survives, Jenny begins to wonder what kind of life her daughter will have.
The story of Wondergirl isn't new. For many years we've been wrestling with the limits of medicine -- how much intervention is too much? And when is it best to let nature have its way? Still, there's something deeply felt in Cravens's simply told tale. It starts with a stiff scene that comes off a bit soap-opera-like, but then, without warning, the play, under Cheryl L. Kaplan's direction, begins to move slowly and gently into some surprisingly intimate territory.
Leading the way is Emerick as the plaintive mother who wants nothing more than to take her daughter home. Emerick's quietly intelligent and intensely moving performance captures a profound truth in this ordinary tale. Following her is Wald, who starts out too over-the-top with his rage. But then he too finds the sad truth in this script. Together, these two actors develop such deeply felt sincerity that Wondergirl, for all its simplicity, blooms into a story that's as moving as anything any theater has produced this season.
James Still's Searching for Eden, now running at Stages Repertory Theatre, is a puffy bit of sitcom-like comedy. Directed by Rob Bundy, the play is an inoffensive love story loosely based on stories by Mark Twain. It imagines what Adam and Eve were like in the beginning. Then it pulls the first couple into the present, imagining their returning to Eden after it's become a resort.
Forget the fact that there's absolutely no logic in this script, which has Adam and Eve jumping across the millennium into the modern day without any explanation for the time travel. The biggest problem with Still's story is the way he stereotypes Adam (Thomas Prior) as a juvenile lunkhead and Eve (Deborah Hope) as a smart, sweet innocent; both characters could have been pulled off any sitcom about husbands and wives. Adam likes paradise just the way it is, and Eve wants nothing more than to renovate her garden home. He's an unimaginative loser who calls all the animals by numbers; she's got ideas to spare and makes up lovely lyrical names for everything around her.
Fast forward to Act II, and you've got a middle-aged couple who love each other despite their differences. How they reached only middle age after all those centuries is never explained. No matter -- anyone who owns a television will recognize these stereotypes and their dialogue. It might be enough for date-night theater, which is exactly what this show is intended to be.
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