Playwright and frequent Houston Press contributor Abby Koenig tells us her latest work, the black comedy Spaghetti Code, was inspired by but not exactly based on her own life. Like the couple in the play, Koenig and her husband struggled for years with infertility. Unlike the couple in the play, Koenig and her husband didn't resort to extreme measures.
A Horse Head Theater production, Spaghetti Code is making its world premiere PJ's Sports Bar. In the play, a woman, desperate for a baby, arranges for her husband and best friend to conceive a child, the natural way (with sex and everything). Nothing could go wrong with that plan, right?
Koenig tells us the woman's desperation, if not her plan, is not unlike her own experience. "You spend most of your waking moments thinking about babies," Koenig says. "And you start to blame yourself. Every little thing you did or do you question if it is affecting your fertility. You become, kinda crazy. It's a slow boil though, but all of a sudden I found myself trying anything. Like, drinking fertility shakes with bee pollen, I'm not kidding."
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Koenig and her husband had eventually started talking about adoption and surrogacy. "My family and friends were all very supportive and offered their eggs or to be a surrogate, etc. And it got me thinking, how far would I go? If I would be willing to adopt a baby that was someone else's and if I could give my husband the opportunity to have the baby have his DNA, and.... If I could pick the woman he would have the baby with? Would I do that? That's where this play came from. How far would you go to have a baby? Would you ask your husband and best friend to sleep together? I wouldn't for the record!"
The play takes its title from a computer programming term. "My husband is a computer programmer," Koenig says. " I was writing the play and I was looking for an analogy for messy, for lack of a better word. My husband said that there was this term called spaghetti code. People have added to it and tried little fixes here and there, and then long before you know it, it's this huge mess.
"The play is about [a] mess on multiple levels. [The plan the main character Milly] concocts for her husband and best friend to have a baby together, is obviously not a good solution to her infertility. Basically, there is no way it can't be a mess. It's yet another fix that's not a solution and in the end, it will change the original code - the character's relationships - and the whole thing - people and their emotions - will get tangled into slop."
Koenig says that while Spaghetti Code is comedy, she hopes audiences don't dismiss the pain of infertile couples. "This is a dark comedy, for sure. There are a lot of funny moments, but it's not an easy topic and the choices that these people make are bad and dumb - and the audience will be angry with them for making those choices. I hope that regardless of how you feel about these characters and their actions, it will get people talking about infertility.
"Ten percent of couples in the U.S. have some fertility issues. That's a lot! And I feel like there's this shame in it, especially for women. This is what we were put on Earth to do, have babies ... The main character has a lot of those feelings - shame, depression, guilt - and I hope that resonates with women who may have gone through it themselves but didn't feel like they could talk about it. We should be talking about it!"
The characters in Spaghetti Code, as you might expect, make a mess of their already difficult situation. Thankfully, Koenig and her husband had a different outcome.
"I spent most of 2012 writing about babies. And I came up with this play and I said to myself, after I finish the play, that's it. I'm not writing about this topic anymore, this was going on four years of fertility treatments. I finished the play the end of last June and I found out I was pregnant the beginning of July. With twins!"
We're happy to report that both boys are happy and healthy ... and keeping their mom up late at night.
See Spaghetti Code at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. July 12 through July 28. PJ's Sports Bar, 614 West Gray. For information, call 646-942-6837 or visit horseheadtheatre.org. $20.