Also see Susan's review of The Velvet Sky
Midwives, the current production at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Md., promises much more than it ultimately delivers. While director Mark Ramont obviously believes in the material, and Alma Cuervo shimmers in the central role, the play never delves far below the surface in its questions of birth, life, and death.
Playwright Dana Yeaton adapted Midwives from a best-selling novel and Oprah’s Book Club selection by Chris Bohjalian. Perhaps the novel pursues the moral and ethical issues surrounding a midwife in trouble with greater depth, but Yeaton’s play comes across as facile.
The protagonist, Sibyl Danforth (Cuervo), is a lay midwife, or “baby catcher” in her words, who lives in rural Vermont. The script implies that she took up midwifery as part of a back-to-the-land, hippie existence in the 1970s, but that’s never really made clear.
The play begins in 1995 as Sibyl receives chemotherapy for cancer. Haunted by the specter of Charlotte Bedford (Kimberly Parker Green), whose delivery went horribly wrong in the midst of a paralyzing winter storm years earlier, Sibyl attempts to reconnect with her daughter Connie (Stephanie Burden), a medical student preparing to become an obstetrician.
Charlotte’s case is at the heart of the dramatic action, and saying that Sibyl was unable to save both Charlotte’s life and the life of her baby is not giving away any secrets. Sibyl and her daughter relive the trial that followed the birth, once again hearing the accusations of the prosecutor (Paul Morella), the explanations of the well-tailored defense lawyer (John Lescault), and Sibyl’s own justifications and rationalizations. As she says on the witness stand, “People can have different versions of an event. That doesn’t mean I’m lying.”
With her open face and expressive eyes that seem like windows into her personality, Cuervo ably conveys both tenacity and self-doubt. Her performance is better than the play really deserves, and gives a reason for being to a production that otherwise is fairly predictable.
Round House Theatre Bethesda