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Theatre in Review: Breeders (New Light Theater Project/Access Theater)

Alton Alburo, Jacob Perkins. Photo: Hunter Canning

Breeders is about Mikey and Dean, gay partners in their early thirties; together since college, they have decided it's time to have kids. (Interestingly, they haven't married, and have no plans to do so.) While they wait for birth mother Zoe to go into labor -- an imminent event -- Dean has quit his job and is already acting like a stereotypical housewife, soaking up daytime TV and busying himself with little projects like learning Spanish. Given the way they can turn just about anything -- including the decision to watch a favorite television program -- into a power struggle, it's easy to have some reservations about their impending parenthood.

Among other relationship irritants, Dean is obsessively interested in the hamsters he is babysitting for his little sister, who is on vacation. And, as it happens, Breeders is also about Jason and Tyson, the occupants of that hamster cage. Apparently, the furry little critters have only recently discovered that Tyson is female and, as a result, have been busy doing what comes naturally. (Dean is transfixed by these scenes of hamster copulation.) However, they, too, are at odds. Jason can't stop mooning over Tyson, the dominant partner, who has little use for romance. Soon, she is pregnant, and not at all happy about it.

Clearly, Dan Giles, the playwright, feels that, on any rung of the animal kingdom, babies upend relationships. A fair point, but as the action of Breeders shuttles back and forth between humans and hamsters, a feeling of ennui sets in: The decision to duplicate the conflict among differing species does little to add humor or dramatic interest. Mikey and Dean's endless, circular arguments quickly become grating. Dean has come down with a virulent case of cold feet, and a sequence that hinges on the question "If I asked you to choose between real me and the hypothetical baby, which would you choose?" is especially tiresome in its passive-aggressive back-and-forth. (I hope not to hear the word "hypothetical" for at least another month.) It's not just that Giles fails to make us understand how this fraught pair has reached the breaking point on the eve of their baby's birth; it's that we never understand what Mikey and Dean ever saw in each other.

The hamster scenes are, if anything, more confounding. They start out on a sketch comedy note, aided by Genevieve V. Beller's clever costumes, although the sight of the actors Fernando Gonzalez and Lea McKenna-Garcia gnawing on giant pellets isn't as amusing as everyone involved seems to think. But this aspirational Nichols-and-May action edges in the general direction of Euripides, as Tyson produces a litter and sinks into a deep postpartum funk. The mood is not improved when someone notes that hamsters sometimes eat their young.

Jaki Bradley's direction does much to add some snap and pace to the action, but she can't prevent Breeders from being an evening of neurotic fretting by four characters who hardly seem worth one's time. This is nothing against the actors, who toil mightily to make it seem as if something amusing and consequential is taking place. Alton Alburo finds the sympathetic side of the wooden, rational Mikey; he has a nice bit near the end when we see how deeply invested he is in the idea of starting a family with Dean. Jacob Perkins does his best with the titanically self-absorbed Dean, but too often he comes off as a professional whiner. (Dean's lengthy, hysterical rant against Neil Patrick Harris, here depicted as the poster boy for gay domesticity, is a good case of a showy set piece that falls flat.) Gonzalez does striking work, both as the lovestruck Jason and as a foot fetishist who hooks up with Dean, via the Internet, for a little afternoon delight. McKenna-Garcia injects some menace into the role of Tyson, although no actress should be made to simulate labor by crying out in agony and pulling little baby hamsters out of her brown jumpsuit. She is also effective as Zoe, who makes an eleventh-hour appearance to unnecessarily articulate the play's themes.

The production benefits from Brian Dudkiewicz's circular setting, which transforms quickly from Mikey and Dean's living room into a hamster cage and back again. Oona Curley's lighting includes color-changing units built into the perimeter of the set, a choice that adds visual interest. Ben Vigus' sound design includes a playlist of electropop tunes and effects that include auto traffic and the cries of baby hamsters.

Breeders ends on an unnecessarily equivocal note, for we're already convinced that Mikey and Dean's parental project is a dubious one. Watching them and their newborn, all I could think was, That kid needs a therapist, ASAP. -- David Barbour


(29 September 2017)

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