by Martin Denton · November 5, 2015
United Solo, the world's largest festival dedicated to solo performance, is important for a lot of reasons. There's the sheer volume/excitement of it all--a showcase for brave and talented and eager solo theater practitioners from all over the world, dozens and dozens of them performing in the intimate Theater Row Studio space in Times Square, yielding a nonpareil immersive entertainment experience unlike any other, brining audiences face-to-face (and just feet or yards away) from actors and actor/writers and physical performers who are alone on stage with nothing but their own talent and the talents of their collaborators to carry them through an hour or an hour-and-a-half of raw and unfiltered theatricality.
And then there's the impulse that drives it all--the dire urgency of these artists to communicate something, to share something. United Solo is first and foremost a platform for the sharing of diverse, intense, necessary stories. (This is what binds United Solo to Indie Theater Now so intractably; and we're grateful and proud to be a partner of the festival since its inception in 2010, and to preserve many of the finest examples of the festival's efforts in script form online.)
Which brings me to The Good Adoptee, one of the hundred or so new solo plays premiering at United Solo this fall. It's written and staged by Suzanne Bachner, whose work as a playwright and director is well known to any aficionado of the NYC indie theater scene. It's dramaturged by Suzanne's husband and longtime collaborator Bob Brader, who is a solo performer of great skill and therefore knows a thing or two about how to make a successful one-person show. And it's performed by Anna Bridgforth, an actor of enormous intelligence and warmth and intensity, who brings Suzanne's own journey as (per the title) a "good adoptee" to life with energy, vivacity, and empathy. Indeed, all of these qualities spill over into the audience as we witness this 90-minute distillation of an aspect of Suzanne's experience that ultimately enlightens and enlarges us all.
The Good Adoptee is about Suzanne's search for her birth parents. It takes the shape of a classic mystery novel, with the playwright herself cast as the intrepid detective (she refers to herself as "Nancy Drew" on more than one occasion in the narrative); like the best examples of the form, it's filled with colorful characters (an enigma-dropping case-worker at the adoption agency; a P.I. with a reality show on the Oprah network), oodles of false starts and red herrings, a steadfast Dr. Watson-esque sidekick (husband/partner Bob), and--maybe a bit of spoiler here, sorry--a very satisfying conclusion.
What's most exciting to me about the play is how much it teaches a person like me--raised by both birth parents; no questions about his ancestry or origins--about the singular dilemma of the adoptee, who, like Suzanne, may grow up with this significant hole in her knowledge of who she actually is. I never thought about the gigantic barrier, for example, that a medical questionnaire could erect for someone in Suzanne's position: does anyone in my family have glaucoma, or breast cancer, or heart disease? Most of us know, but--due in part to a number of institutional edifices that seem mainly designed to protect the institutions themselves--Suzanne and other adoptees, good (or bad), cannot know.
And so, for 90 minutes we walk in Suzanne's shoes, and the lessons of that encounter illuminate a whole area of human experience for us. Talking about the thorny question of whether to even find out who her birth parents are, Suzanne notes that once we know something, we cannot un-know it. Which is why an event like The Good Adoptee matters so much: I was not only utterly immersed in an interesting and exciting story, but I left knowing something I didn't know before, and with an immediacy that makes me not just passively accept what I learned but want to delve further and discover more. The Good Adoptee--along with so many other works at United Solo--ultimately empowers an audience to set forth on further explorations of every corner of the human experience. Which is, I think, a grand mission indeed.