Two friends find themselves fooling about after a bad break-up and a night of heavy drinking. Fooling doesn’t last for long however, as despite being attracted to other genders, the pair of best friends embark on a sexual exploration of the limits of their queer identities. At Birth takes on hefty subjects including bodily autonomy and the boundaries of chosen family, with verve. At its most visceral, the piece uncovers that debate in a deeply personal way. This is underpinned by a profound exploration of the limits of two friends’ platonic love for one another, performed in exquisite depth by actors Ty Autry and Thalia Gonzalez Kane.
The piece falls across the backdrop of imminent and pertinent changes to the rights of women to their own bodily autonomy in the U.S. Set in Atlanta, we bare witness to the fallout of Isaac and Anna’s sexual catharsis which is soon wrapped up in corporeal anguish and quixotic dreaming as Anna becomes pregnant. Isaac wants to to raise the child, and asks his friend to risk lifelong bodily change should she decide to go through with the pregnancy. It becomes clear early on that a lot of trust and intimacy work has been implemented in the process of creating the show, and both Autry and Gonzalez Kane delight in creating sincerity and authenticity in Anna and Isaac’s relationship.
Processes of impulse and healing are caught in a twisting tornado throughout the piece, as we see Anna to-and-throw over her decision, bandied around by those who are supposed to offer her support. The piece does well to depict the messiness of building family in a government-regulated stand-off between practicality and human connection. It does not come across as a campaigning piece by any means, but rather is expressive in its’ philosophy of unravelling the machinations of pregnancy-related healthcare. Anna and Isaac are both fraught in their own ways – Isaac comes across initially as inconsiderate in the face of Anna’s bodily changes, whereas Anna sometimes flails in the face of offers of help, perhaps quite understandably. The two are deeply believable, complex people, and I have nothing but endless applause for the creativity required to deliver that quality of characteristic richness.
The overall quality of acting leaves a textured, uncamouflaged imprint on every member of the audience. The two continually refer to each other as chosen family throughout, even when responding to questions from their own biological families about the process that they are undertaking. Conversations throughout reveal fragmentation in their identities, both characters marked by bad experiences in conventional romantic relationships, and we see their yearning for something that doesn’t leave them hollow imbue into each of their psyches. There is a tenderness to their relationship, both don’t want to do anything to hurt the other, and their inter-dependency soon becomes a thorn in both of their sides.
Some sections leave questions unanswered however – Anna worries about caring too much for the prospective child they have created together, and this is only semi-explored, as I feel toward the end the script offers a little more weighting to Isaac’s future in place of her own. The writing is overtly focused on the subject matter, and it feels a little narratively over-efficient to be fixated on the inter-personal moments between Anna and Isaac. I couldn’t tell you what either character did for a living, nor about their relationship with their own biological families, and while this content isn’t necessary it would offer more of a contextual hinterland for the audience to connect with both characters. While both feel sensuously real in their interactions, there is little of a show world outside of their relationship, which may help to invite and engross the audience into the piece’s story.
When At Birth is at its’ most thoughtful and introspective, the show is utterly electric. The sound design is emphatically constructed yet never distracting, and the slickness of its’ creative design is overwhelmingly professional. Above all, the piece takes such a potent dive into the limits that two friends can push each other too against the backdrop of the politicisation and subjugation of women’s bodily autonomy.
Captivating, fearless and earnest – At Birth takes you to a place deep within yourself and doesn’t let go.
Recommended Drink: Well, you’re not at college anymore, but why not have another un-carefully poured vodka shot.
Performances of At Birth have now concluded at Prague Fringe. Keep up with the company online for future showings.