Birth-Rite, at Angel Island. It's New Year's Eve 1999, and women worldwide are competing to be the first to give birth in "the new millennium," a registered trademark of the Universal Contest Supply Corporation. The victorious mother will win fabulous prizes, while her attending physician will reap the kind of publicity Christiaan Barnard or Robert Gallo could only dream of--if he meets the specifications of the Orwellian company running the event.
The premise of Peter M. Handler's new comedy is pregnant with potential. But the play, staged by Handler in its world premiere, isn't quite ready for delivery. Intermittently amusing thanks to some clever jokes and the visceral kick of its climactic childbirth scene, Birth-Rite veers from dark absurdist farce in a Terry Southern vein to wordy philosophical whimsy a la Thornton Wilder. Rosa Ramirez (Monica Bravo, whose staring eyes, sweat-matted hair, and strapped-down position recall Linda Blair in The Exorcist) struggles to delay childbirth for a record seven days--an improbable, distasteful notion that weakens Handler's on-target jibes at the exploitation of human need for entertainment and profit. Rosa's harried, hyper doctor (Joe Dempsey, a Bruce Dern look-alike) dashes in and out of her white-draped room: one of Rosa's offstage rivals might be a better bet. Meanwhile Rosa's loyal nurse (Amy Galper) spouts empathic New Age rhetoric, beaming a spacey smile as she presides over the birth of a possible messiah. The nurse's moralizing repeatedly dampens the comic frenzy, making for a patchily paced production. It needs to spend more time in the incubator. --Albert Williams