Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, February 2008
A one-woman musical about the “joys” of pregnancy written by two men?? This I had to see. And I’m rather glad I did. For two people who have never been and will never be pregnant Carl Ritchie (book and lyrics) and Stephen Woodjetts (music) have done a nice job of balancing the physiological ick-factors with the genuine emotions that run through a woman’s veins over the course of those endless nine months.
There are women out there who just LOVE being pregnant. I am not one of them. I am delighted to have my two sons, but the process of gestation appalled me. And there are women out there for whom pregnancy is a painful topic. Getting pregnant, being pregnant, staying pregnant – these are enormous physical and emotional issues for women, and always have been. Now those issues are largely political and economic, but until very recently they were literally matters of life and death.
But Ritchie has gently skirted all those issues in Nine Months. Elise Dewsberry, for whom Ritchie wrote this show in 1990’s, plays three different woman – soft-spoken and devoutly Catholic Jennie Phillips, uber-organized career woman Margot Spencer, and independent free-thinking Dawn Vaughan. Jennie and Margot are married, Dawn is not, and consequently Jennie and Margot’s pregnancies were planned, and Dawn’s was not, but all three women want their babies. This is a first pregnancy for Margot and Dawn. Jennie has suffered a miscarriage previously.
None of the women has any physical complications during pregnancy or childbirth, and all of the babies are born healthy, so the topics covered in this ninety-minute show are mild and gently funny. Even potentially tasteless topics like vomiting and flatulence are presented in ways that are entertaining rather than disgusting.
Ritchie has framed the show as the first in a series of instructional videos on “The Miracle of Human Development” made by the fictitious Growth Videos Incorporated, and so Dewberry also plays the film’s narrator as well as the three expectant mothers. This device works well, aided by lighting cues which distinguish the narration from the action, as it allows the women’s progress through the three trimesters to be clearly delineated.
Dewsberry and Ritchie have a long and theatrically productive friendship which began when they met in 11th grade at a school in the Himalayas. I encourage you to read the press release, in which Ritchie describes their lives together and apart with great affection. It explains clearly how a performer of Dewsberry’s caliber comes to be gracing the stage of a grange hall in Copake, New York
Dewsberry has been performing this show all over the United States and Canada for more than a decade, and she is completely comfortable with the material. Years of traveling the show have also evolved a practical and very attractive color coordinated set and costume design. Dewsberry is basically alone on the stage with a kitchen stool and so the show is completely dependent on the creative talent involved. In Copake, along with Dewsberry, Ritchie, and Woodjetts, this team consists of lighting designer Christine Wopat and pianist by Ross Källing.
Appropriate and timely lighting changes are key to moving the show along, and Wopat has done a fine job of creating the desired effects with the equipment at hand, well executed by the stage management team of Joe Sledz and Samantha Cole.
Källing, a colleague of Dewsberry’s at the Academy for New Musical Theatre in Los Angeles, plays so professionally on the old upright stage right that you forget he is there. His music blends seamlessly with Dewsberry’s performance.
All that being said, I thought Woodjetts’ music was the weakest link in the show. It was not particularly memorable and sounded quite derivative in places. But Dewsberry makes each song belong to Jennie, or Margot, or Dawn, using different vocal inflections for each character’s singing and speaking voices. Right from the start you see these three women as distinct individuals.
It was exactly twenty years ago this month that I discovered that I was pregnant with my second child. I was sitting in a swanky restaurant being treated to a lovely gourmet luncheon by a friend and nothing tasted good. I felt lousy. And then a little light bulb went off in my brain. I remembered this! It had been five and a half years but I remembered this sensation of dis-ease and misery all too well. Despite the fact that I was happy to be having a second child, the only way I got through the ensuing months was by telling myself “You’ll never have to do this again.”
No, I am one of those weird women who hated being pregnant but actually enjoyed giving birth. Yes it is painful and messy, but it is the ultimate creative act. You get to finally meet the person who has been living inside your body for the past nine months AND you’re not pregnant anymore! Hooray!!
So of course the part of the show I liked the best was the scene in which all three women give birth, and then the following scene when they bond with their babies. The birthing scene was very well written and performed in a way that conveyed the excitement of the moment without the gory and annoying parts of the process. And who doesn’t shed a tear for that moment when mother and baby finally come face to face? Yeah, the preceding nine months are full of wonder, but it is just the female body on auto-pilot. When the baby is born the relationship changes from one of parasite and host to one of parent and child – a life-long miracle that changes a woman’s whole world in profound ways.
I was surprised that the men in the audience seemed to be having as much fun as the women. That would probably not have been the case a few decades ago, before fathers were encouraged to attend their children’s births. Nowadays expectant fathers actually proclaim “We’re pregnant!” which is a bald-faced lie if I ever heard one but which clearly shows the ownership men now assume in the whole process.
The only people who probably wouldn’t enjoy this show are children and teens. The whole concept of adult sexuality will always be icky to them and they want nothing to do with the idea that they were the product thereof.
The Copake Theatre Company production of Nine Months runs Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through March 2, at the historic Copake Grange, Empire Road at Route 7A, Copake, NY. The show runs 90 minutes with one intermission and is suitable for everyone grown-up enough to find pregnancy amusing. Tickets are available by calling 518-325-1234, or buy your tickets at Dad's Copake Diner.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2008