Anthony J. Piccione
- New York Theatre Critic
Deciding whether or not you and your partner do or do not want kids is a big factor, in terms of deciding whether or not you not only love someone, but whether or not you want to actually spend the rest of your life with that particular person. Particularly when it’s a gay or lesbian couple, who have been planning with medical assistance to have a baby for awhile, then it can come as being hurtful, when one half of the couple suddenly decides – after months, if not years of planning – that they no longer want a child, even if the other passionately does. This is exactly the dynamic that is explored beautifully in Half Me, Half You, the new drama by Liane Grant that recently played at the Fresh Fruit Festival, and at this point, easily ranks as one of my favorite plays of the year.
The first half of the play – set in 2017 toward the beginning of the Trump administration – follows the marriage of Meredith and Jess, a biracial, lesbian couple that has been trying for a lengthy period of time to have children together, with the help of IVO procedures, but with little success…only for Meredith to later reveal to Jess that, unlike her, a combination of the tumultuous political climate and her hyper-focus on her career as a lawyer have left her with little appetite for having any children, leaving to a major and irreconcilable strain on their marriage. 16 years later, in an imagined pessimistic vision of post-Trump America, Meredith is named the legal guardian of Jess’s adopted daughter, Maya, which ultimately forces Meredith to confront her past, and face some uncomfortable truths surrounding her past relationship.
When thinking about what defines a well-written play, in terms of whether or not the plot, characters, and dialogue are all able to pull the audience in, this play defines exactly that, and does a masterful job at telling a story that feels authentic and powerful, and leaves audiences thinking about the similar realities that many real life couples are also facing, in terms of love, marriage, the differences and problems that allows them to fall apart, and also the role that race often plays in these relationships. Furthermore, the subject matter – and the contemporary backdrop, in which the play largely takes place – makes it feel all the more timely, and certainly is guaranteed to resonate strongly with a wide audience. With the help of a wonderful cast and director Leah Fogo, this play is brought to life in a manner that feels both raw and intimate, and is masterfully staged in the relatively minimalistic set that is set up in the Wild Project’s stage.
In terms of the acting, Ms. Grant portrays the lead role of Meredith just as wonderfully as she wrote it. I’ve said before that playwrights and directors who act in their own work often turn me off…UNLESS they’re excellent at both writing and acting, and this is such a case. Meanwhile, Jess is portrayed with vivid passion by Jennifer Fouche, whose raw emotion particularly shines toward the climax of the play’s first half. From there on, Kalea Williams delivers a strong and gradually energetic performance as Maya, while Evelyn Christina Tonn provides a soft dose of comic relief in the role of Deb, Meredith’s future lover in 2033.
I can only name two or three shows off the top of my head, thus far in 2018, that have left me on the verge of tears, and this is one of them. The fact that it’s a play that I myself can’t personally relate to from my own life, but nonetheless, left me feeling emotionally connected and deeply sympathetic toward, is a strong testament to Ms. Grant’s writing, as well as the sheer talent of this cast. It’s also yet another familiar situation where it only receives three performances in a festival setting, despite deserving far more. However, I do hope that this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing about this play, or at the very least, that we’ll have many more works from this playwright/actor to look forward to.
“Half Me, Half You” ended its run at the Wild Project as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival on July 14th