Friday, March 4, 2016

A Child Shall Lead Them

Not everyone wants to raise a family. But for those who do, procreation isn't always the result of "doin' what comes naturally." Gay couples (as well as heterosexuals struggling with infertility issues) are often faced with a difficult decision: Adopt or adapt. Either route is accompanied by risk and expense, which can put prospective parents on a white-knuckle path with regard to their patience, hopes, expectations, and finances.
  • Those who opt for in vitro fertilization (IVF) have no guarantee of success.
  • Those who contract with a surrogate mother may face the surrogate's crushing postpartum decision to keep the child. 
  • Some couples who choose to adopt are subsequently able to conceive a child of their own (which can lead to concerns about favoring their natural-born child over their adopted one).
  • Sometimes unexpected circumstances can result in welcoming a neighbor (or even a complete stranger) into one's family and embracing them as one's own child.
When push comes to shove, it isn't always about blood lines. Sometimes it's about fostering an abandoned child or becoming a mentor to someone who has grown past adolescence. Sometimes it's about sharing one's wealth and warmth. Sometimes it's simply about "doing the right thing."

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Theatre Rhinoceros recently staged Tanya Barfield's play about adoption entitled The Call at the Eureka Theatre on an attractive unit set designed by Jon Wai-keung Lowe (who also directed). Barfield's play focuses on a middle-aged heterosexual couple hoping to adopt and their close friends (an African-American lesbian couple with no plans whatsoever to adopt).
  • Peter (Hawlan Ng) very much wants a family. Now that he and his wife are close to being approved for adoption, he has started refurbishing one of the rooms in their home as a nursery. The couple has already weighed the option of adopting a child from a woman in Arizona (who might change her mind) versus adopting a child from Africa. They've made peace with the fact that if the child to be adopted is a girl, they would even be willing to accept someone as old as 18 months.
  • Annie (Melissa Keith) is a "Wonder Bread white" woman whose biological clock may soon stop ticking and whose emotions are much more volatile than her husband's. When the couple receives word from their adoption agency that the child they receive might be older than they had imagined, fear and indecision begin to weaken their resolve. The picture sent by the agency (which claims that the child is 2-1/2 years old) makes the child look older, perhaps even four years of age. As Annie becomes overwhelmed with doubts about whether to continue with the adoption process, one can't help but wonder whether she'd really make a good parent.
Melissa Keith (Annie) and Darry V. Jones (Alemu)
in a scene from The Call (Photo by: David Wilson)

Auntie Rebecca (Nkechi Emeruwa) and Auntie Drea (Alexaendrai Bond) have already committed to being in charge of attending to the proper care of the young girl's hair. As Rebecca explains: "The poor child is in danger of having "nappy I-got-white-parents syndrome." Drea's insistence on pointing out that, instead of seeking out an African child, their friends could choose from plenty of black children in America who are waiting to be adopted only serves to further roil Annie's emotions.

Alexaendrai Bond, Nkechi Emeruwa, Melissa Keith, and
Hawlan Ng in a scene from The Call (Photo by: David Wilson) 

Complicating matters is the unresolved mystery of how Rebecca's brother (and Peter's close friend) acquired AIDS while on a trip to Africa. As if Annie and Peter's predicament weren't bringing up enough unresolved issues, their new neighbor, Alemu (Darryl V. Jones), is a lonely African immigrant who came to America as a student and couldn't bring himself to go home. Once he learns that his neighbors are planning a trip to Africa, Alemu keeps bringing them care packages (shoes, syringes, soccer balls) for them to bring with them as gifts.

When Alemu divulges the real reason why he cannot return to his village, the two American couples receive a crash course in First World problems versus Third World problems. As Annie's insecurities reach the boiling point, Alemu gently points out that while she seems hell-bent on wanting to adopt a child from Africa, she's not the slightest bit interested in acquiring the parts of Africa that will accompany such a child.

Nkechi Emeruwa (Rebecca) and Hawlan Ng (Peter)
in a scene from The Call (Photo by: David Wilson)

In his program note, John Fisher writes:
“Adoption is a good thing, right? When we embark on such an enterprise, whose advice should we solicit/listen to? Should we listen to anyone? Is it just our hearts that need our attention? Many issues surround the desire to 'do good,' even as we try to bring fulfillment to our lives. Are they mutually exclusive desires?

Ms. Barfield brings many voices to the discussion: those of African-American lesbians, Africans, Caucasian straights and, like the great Shavian stage debates, the argument is complex. Unlike Shaw, no definitive answer is delivered.  Nevertheless, the characters take action, like real people: unsure, nervous, yearning, but aware finally that their action comes with enormous responsibility, like a child.”
Barfield's writing is strong and incisive, with Peter (the strong, sensitive type whose emotions run deep) providing an dramatic foil to the three, more volatile women. While Theatre Rhino's ensemble did a solid job with their characterizations, I found the final scene -- in which Annie talks herself into proceeding with the adoption of an older child -- hard to believe. Whether she was doing so due to guilt, desperation, or to mollify her husband, the scene didn't ring true to me.

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It's rare to find a family documentary as heartwarming as Sons of Halawa, but that may be because today's Hawaiians are acutely aware of the importance of preserving their culture, from its tribal customs to its close relationship with nature.

Located on the island of Molokai, the lush, isolated Halawa valley is one of Hawaii's oldest inhabited locations. With most of its youth having left the area in search of better jobs, Anakala Pilipo Solatorio (who was adopted at the age of four and chosen to carry Halawa's traditions to future generations at the age of five) is the last person from his generation to still live in Halawa.

Poster art for Sons of Halawa

A gregarious man in his seventies (who has run a small sightseeing business for many years), Pilipo hopes that at least one of his sons will be able to carry on the traditions of the Halawa valley. While all three men are devoted to "Pops" and have great respect for the cultural work he has done over the years, there is no competition for the position.
  • Pilipo's son, Greg Kawaimaka Solatorio, is acutely aware of his familial responsibility and wants very much to move back to the Halawa valley. But Greg's wife has a good job in healthcare in Honolulu and the transition will require him to spend long periods of time away from his two sons.
  • Jason Poole ("The Accidental Hawaiian Crooner") a New York-based musician who speaks fluent Hawaiian, is one of Pilipo’s two hanai (informally adopted) sons. Having graduated cum laude with a B.F.A. in Vocal Performance from Carnegie Mellon University, Jason studied Hawaiian music while recovering from an accident. Today, he shares the music and culture of Hawaii with his students in New York during the school year. If he could, he would love to live in Hawaii with the native family that welcomed him into their lives. One thing Jason did on a recent visit to Halawa was to help record dozens of old Hawaiian songs Pilipo had written over the years so that his adopted father's music could be digitally preserved for future generations.
  • Josh Pastrana (Pilipo's other hanai son) is a local taro farmer who loves the land in the Halawa valley and is devoted to "Pops."
Josh Pastrana holds up some fresh taro root

Sons of Halawa does a fine job of communicating the need to preserve one's cultural heritage. Backed by panoramic vistas, the extended Solatorio clan gathers for a yearly reunion during the film as they search for a way to carry on Pilipo's legacy and the culture of the Halawa valley. In addition to being screened at CAAMFest 2016, Sons of Halawa will be broadcast nationally over the PBS network later in 2016 as part of its Pacific Heartbeat series. Here's the trailer:

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