Something is not “just right” in the established relationships of two separate couples living a New York City subway ride apart from each other.
Ray (Trent Blanton) is agonized because a condition affecting his vans deferens prevents him and his wife, Franny (Jessica DalCanton), from having a child together. They pour over profiles of potential sperm donors but brand each one “garbage” whose generative course they don’t want to continue. Franny, meanwhile, has dubbed her biological clock a time bomb.
Sullen, uncommunicative Andy (Andy Phelan) cannot tell his partner, Matt (Dan Domingues), what is making him more unfathomable than usual. The Passage Theater audience for Ian August’s world premiere play, “The Goldilocks Zone” learns Andy longs to be a father, not so much because he is paternal or that he thought through how having a child would affect his life, but because he wants his recently late father to contribute to another generation via transmitted DNA. Matt, a divorce lawyer who supports his and Andy’s domicile, finds Andy child enough.
August deftly creates an impasse and an issue. Ray and Franny can’t find the right conditions to conceive a baby. Andy and Matt have not discussed children. Matt doesn’t know about Andy’s craving. Andy knows better than to broach the subject. Neither marriage can locate the connubial Goldilocks Zone where all conditions conspire to support and sustain life.
Even in science, the Goldilocks Zone only allows for life to be possible. It doesn’t guarantee perfection. August’s play gives the impression Ray and Franny, and Andy and Matt, would be reasonably happy if each couple could solve its child-bearing dilemma. It comically, and thoroughly, delves into all the snags involved, including the thorniest, who acts as the father if Ray and Franny are acquainted with their donor and that person expects to be involved with his progeny. Franny and Andy, you see, have negotiated an agreement of sorts after finding each other on Craig’s List, an agreement that Ray and Matt don’t know about and erupt emotionally from when they’re told.
August has calculated every complication, misunderstanding, and reaction. Even when you can predict a situation, particularly a snafu, the author surprises impressively by giving it an unexpected twist. He clearly understands when to introduce the dramatically necessary and how to give it particular impact. Confrontations between Ray and Franny, and Andy and Matt, teeter between the comic and the serious as August gives his characters arch or naively amusing lines juxtaposed with the sentimental, personal, or just plain angry or confused.
The general tone is comic, and Passage director Damon Bonetti keeps all sophisticated and buoyant as he deals with three articulate, dynamic characters and one, Andy, who is not as confident or as glib as the others. Phelan plays him with a dim, but candid, sweetness that has more to do with his youth and lack of professional training than lack of native intelligence.
Andy has the most difficult time, but all the characters can express their inner feelings and responses. Each has a monologue that gives salient background, reveals how his or her spouse was met, and talks about dreams and ambitions.
The conversational nature of “The Goldilocks Zone” makes the play comfortable. You become immediately familiar with all of August’s characters, and the actors each display traits and personalities that make their character individual and distinct.
Each copes with something deeply internal, which gives August’s play texture. Ray is filled with guilt about not being able to provide Franny with the child she’s envisioned since she was a girl and determined that having a family was part of the meaning of life. Ray is also angry that his child will be someone else’s. He is sensitive about being the father in all ways aside from the biological. He particularly bristles at the prospect of sharing the paternal role, a predicament that arises because Franny is intent on meeting and approving of the sperm donor.
Franny is impulsive and impatient. When she meets Andy, she thinks her problems are solved while a new set is developing. Andy is one-track about being a father. A guy who cannot achieve anything is dogged about doing research and following through about having a child.
Matt is the most unaffected. Andy’s paternal desires are news to him, and he greets them with a whimsical stare, a questioning expression, and a lawyer’s penchant for getting to the facts and coming to a compromise. Matt is more bemused than miffed, but he is also intent on establishing Andy’s interest and future access to any child he sires.
August is fair about giving each of the quartet his or her due. From the fine acting of the cast and August’s revealing script, we know who these people are and come to care about them, even the distant Matt and argumentative Ray. August, Bonetti, and company have done an excellent job at letting us understand what condition might constitute a Goldilocks Zone for each, and we like everyone so much, we root for them to find that ideal combination of elements.
The complications we see are human and are informed by love. The discussions, and even the confusions, derive from life and have an authentic feel reinforced by the familiarity with which the actors endow their characters.
Matt is the most basic. He wants the least and has the smallest stake in biological clocks ticking. Dan Domingues is superbly natural in the role, giving Matt a sense of irony and a core of reality that gives him an equal role in a drama that more nearly concerns the others.
Jessica DalCanton provides snap and energy as Franny, who is so devoted to motherhood, you want to present her with a baby.
Trent Blanton gives Ray a lot of range. You see the contained, composed seventh grade teacher going through a convincing gamut as he considers surrogate fatherhood and all it means — whether he and Franny know the donor’s identity or not.
Phelan is downright lovable and downright frustrating as Andy, someone who works on childlike impulses that contrast with Franny’s adult compulsion. He shows Andy’s angst while struggling to put his desires into words.
Matthew R. Campbell’s set captures two New York apartments perfectly. Robin I. Shane chooses excellent clothing for Matt and Ray while making Andy a tad retro and giving Franny an odd ensemble or two.
The Goldilocks Zone, Passage Theater, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton. Through Sunday, May 31,Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 3 p.m. $12 to $35. 609-392-0766 or www.passagetheatre.org.