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Uproarious Play Opens at Lunchbox

Speed Dating for Sperm Donors explores challenges in lesbian childbearing

Theatre Preview by Janine Eva Trotta (From GayCalgary® Magazine, February 2015, page 10)
Janelle Cooper and Julie Orton in Speed Dating for Sperm Donors
Janelle Cooper and Julie Orton in Speed Dating for Sperm Donors
Image by: Benjamin Laird
Julie Orton, Janelle Cooper, Mark Bellamy and Christian Goutsis
Julie Orton, Janelle Cooper, Mark Bellamy and Christian Goutsis
Image by: Benjamin Laird

It’s hard to sum up what playwright Natalie Meisner has packed into less than an hour of onstage running time. It’s a fierce show: funny, emotive, raw – all things that inspire both genuine laughter and tears.

Paige and Helen are a lesbian couple who live in Calgary, though Paige is from the south of France while Helen calls Nova Scotia home. They met at an airport, uprooted their lives for one another, and on a thumping dance floor, when Paige asked Helen if she wanted to have a baby with her, their lives and roles changed irrevocably forever. And so the frustrating, complicated and straining journey to find a biological father for their coveted future offspring began.

"It has everything: high stakes, lovely rich characters and a tremendous amount of heart," says director Pamela Halstead who, like Meisner and her lead character Helen, hails from Nova Scotia. The two first workshopped the piece in Stage One in 2013, and Halstead committed to be part of bringing the work to stage. Halstead says her biggest job in managing this piece was balancing its aspects of reality and fiction.

"[The show] is inspired by Natalie and her partner Vivien’s experience of trying to find a suitable sperm donor," she explains. "So you want to honour the truth of the real people and, at the same time, the characters are not exactly them, and the donors are amalgamations of men they met or over-the-top versions of some others."

The script does a topnotch job of doing just that. At times I found myself looking away, as though the moment I was watching on stage was a moment occurring between two people in real life, too intimate to look on directly. The dialogue is funny, witty, and never for a moment forced. The actresses are both such naturals at these roles – it really feels you are watching two women you know very well trying to conceive their baby(s). Mark Bellamy, artistic producer at Lunchbox, also lends his zest and zeal to play a variety of comical characters – each one fresh and hysterical.

Lines like The roads are starting to clear... I’d drive to Edmonton for fresh sperm derive laughs, but never at the expense of the real turmoil this very difficult quest affects.

"I hope that the audience gets to experience the love these two women have for each other, and the hopes and dreams they have for the future – as well as their sheer determination to make those dreams come true," Halstead says. "...despite the fact that they are a same-sex couple... their desire to have a family is as real and true as any heterosexual couple’s – the journey is just more challenging to get there! And for some in the audience, it may challenge their preconceived notions about same-sex relationships and what constitutes a family."

Glancing around at the expressions on the faces that surrounded me in attendance on opening day, many of those elderly, they were getting it. They were laughing, tearing up, even fanning themselves over the blustering emotion this genuine piece inspires.

Growing up in the multicultural hodgepodge of a relatively new city, it is easy to think that nothing here is actually colloquial. But in this play, a hyperbolized version of the non-fiction account Meisner scribed in her book Double Pregnant: Two Lesbians Make a Family (Fernwood, 2014), the writer delivers a story that is so uniquely Calgarian. This story implemented so firmly in my mind I completely missed my stop on the train ride home. I want everyone I know to go and see this play. I want it to be performed in schools. It does such a lovely job of conveying a reality that many are oblivious to: that lesbian and gay couples are just as destined to raise families as anyone else is. They just might have to jump a few hilarious, and horrendous, hurdles to get there.


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