Playwright Katie Hae Leo presents us with a pleasantly breezy and vivacious narrator in her lovely Four Destinies (Mu Performing Arts at Mixed Blood Theatre, through Oct 30). The narrator is named Katie Leo. This Katie is a playwright and her aim is modesty itself: to answer once and for all the vexing question, what do adoptees want? And not just for the characters in this play; she intends to answer the question the behalf of all adoptees.
Ms. Leo’s tongue may be firmly planted in her cheek, but not entirely. In fact she comes remarkably close to discovering an answer to this question and the effort makes the rambling and shambling play eminently watchable – and in the end very affecting. It’s also, and this is truly its saving grace, quite funny.
In Act 1, Leo creates the Destinys, four grown-up adoptees, celebrating Gotcha Day with their well-meaning but dorky parents. The first Destiny is Korean, the next is African-American, then Guatemalan; these are all female. The final Destiny is a white American man. Midway through the act, narrator Leo announces that these “characters have gotten away from me.” Frankly, I didn’t believe her. The firm hand of the playwright was all too apparent as the same scene, with variations, is played and replayed, 4 times. Moreover (and as an adoptive parent myself, this bothered me a lot), I found the parents shallow, vehicles for cheap comic effect. During the intermission, I was, I will admit, a restive play-goer.
Ah, but then Act 2 happened, and it’s wonderful. Leo puts her characters through their paces – and narrator Katie Leo as well. They do unpredictable and surprising things. They make significant human connections. They become multi-dimensional. They grow, make meaningful discoveries. In the second act the characters really do get away from their author and result is sublime. When narrator Leo tells us “Truth is a painted toy,” we know precisely what she’s talking about. When the play ended, I was seduced.
Under the firm directorial hand of Suzy Messerole, the actors excel. Katie Bradley as Katie Leo (!) takes charge of the play from the start, sweet and soft but also powerful. Sara Ochs (like everyone) comes into her own in the second act and gives a surprisingly and satisfyingly muscular and assertive performance. Ditto the remarkable Nora Montanez, utterly convincing as a go-getter professor brought up short by pregnancy. LaDawn James delights as the angry adoptee who find solace in low-budget horror flicks. And Neil Schneider: I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I reveal that his is the only successful birth parent search, and Schneider plays the encounter beautifully (as does Shanan Custer). As the parents and their friends (as well as a number of side characters), Custer, Maria Kelly, Nicholas Freeman and Don Eitel are very good.
Four Destinies is by no means a perfect play, but Leo writes with intelligence and imbues the play with keenly felt passion. This makes it well worthwhile.
For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.