KPBS AIRDATE: 7/22/91
What exactly are life’s basic necessities? For 43 year-old Zelda Kelly, protagonist of Velina Hasu’s Houston’s latest play, called “Necessities,” it’s — let’s see, a couple of Mercedes, some big feature film deals, maybe a TV sitcom, a deal-making power lunch, a young, successful husband, 10 or 20 cats, a bulging checkbook, a smarmy male secretary. All this, and she’s still not satisfied. What she really needs, she thinks, is a baby.
Turns out, though, that she’s too old to conceive, and also too old for a conventional adoption. Her husband, who’s been wheeling and dealing in development — and sometimes younger women — isn’t all for it. But the feminist female of the nineties forges ahead anyway.
She hires a lawyer to help her adopt — more like buy — a baby in another state. She puts an ad in a newspaper and waits in a posh hotel room, as the women file in — to challenge her and her motives, make her question everything she thinks, is and wants.
Sounds like it could be heavy-handed. It is. Houston skims off the top of familiar bubbling cauldrons: women wanting it all; the ole biological clock; the emptiness of modern materialism; regrets about abortions; prejudice and multiracialism; whether or not women are complete women if they aren’t mothers.
Some of it works. There’s a lot more to chew on in the second act, but some of these meaty issues just get stuck in your throat. The characters aren’t fleshed out sufficiently. The performances are spotty, too.
As Zelda, Jennifer Savidge walks a tightrope between trying to seem nervous and making us nervous. Few of her lines or interactions seem real — until she has a real blowup with her husband. William Anton brings his usual tough sensitivity to husband Danny. But he doesn’t really look the part of a young, high-powered real estate mogul.
Jonathan Nichols is annoying enough as the soulless secretary, but he isn’t believable enough. And as Zelda’s sensible, middle-of-the-road friend, Freda Foh Shen is pure cardboard — both in character and portrayal.
The parade of mothers gives Suzanna Hay, Tara Marchant and Sue-Anne Morrow a trio of juicy little cameos. But they’re nineties stereotypes — the druggie with the abusive mate; the hard-nosed, multiracial feminist; and the simple teenager from Tulsa with two kids, no money and a maternal streak as big as her home state.
Each one is in and out in a jiffy. We barely digest one zinger and we’re being force-fed the next. Finally, crumpling from upper-middle-class angst, Zelda turns to her husband to see if the hole in her life may have anything to do with her vacuous marriage or lifestyle.
Director Julianne Boyd keeps things moving, but not really interesting. Lines and ideas fly by. Everyone seems in a rush to get it all over with. Only Anton takes his time.
Time is what playwright Houston needs, too. Time to shape and hone her play, till the issues are pared down, the intent is clearer and the characters are better defined. She may have a baby waiting to come out, but it’s still in an embryonic state….. I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.