by Morgan Lindsey Tachco · August 20, 2015
Kathryn Neville Browne, Bradley Levine, Karen Lynn Gorney, Adiagha Faizah | Patrick Cleary
Parthenogenesis is the biological process of reproduction in which the offspring develops from unfertilized eggs - no male genetics required. It hasn’t been known to occur in mammals; only very specific species - arthropods (bees, spiders) and some fish and reptiles. In some cases, depending on how the cells divide, offspring will be an exact clone of the mother.
The lead character in Patrick Cleary’s Parthenogenesis now playing at the C.O.W. theater at FringeNYC, is a young woman particularly obsessed with this process. Played by the lovely Sophie Walker, April was conceived by artificial insemination and raised in a purposefully matriarchal household by her mother Theresa (played here by Kathryn Neville Browne) and her sardonic Aunt Ginny (Karen Lynn Gorney). Theresa’s own father abandoned her when she was four. April has spent her young life obsessed with whom her father might be and how her life may have been different had she been raised by two parents. She’s left only with a tape recording of a sperm donor’s voice given to her by the fertility doctor and her active imagination. At the opening of the play, she arrives home for a break from college eight months pregnant with her professor’s child and taking a break from school for the impending birth. She finds a distraught Theresa who has just found out that her father is dying and would like to see her before he dies.
Parthenogenesis aims to be a study on the age-old question of parentage and biology; nature vs. nurture: which would ultimately “win out” (if “winning” is the end goal) - parentage or biology? Woven in through this piece seems to be a patriarchal vs. matriarchal question, as well: what occurs when one is more prevalent than another? Is one better than the other? Is a father more than a biological necessity? How do our emotional lives develop when we’re raised in environments of trauma and imbalance around these issues?
The performers here drive the piece well - standouts include Sophie Walker as April, a young actor whose star will be one to watch rise; Brandon Jones as her professor and father of her child Jack; and Adiagha Faizah as Woman, who dons many supporting roles throughout the story.
There’s so much going on in this world that it’s ultimately hard to find the thesis in Cleary’s script. With fewer plot twists we could have the opportunity to focus on and explore these huge questions on the table and give the script - driven by great humor and littered with quippy, well timed one-liners - time to breathe. These are all great questions and interesting concepts that we all grapple with on the micro and macro levels. We’d do a good service to one another by affording the space and time to work them out.