Open adoption is a modern and still controversial concept.
The Gazette, October 28, 2009
by Pat Donnelly
During the 1960s, the era depicted in Amanda Whittington's Be My Baby, young mothers were obliged to give up their babies with absolute finality, never to hear word of them again.
. Gabrielle Soskin, founder and artistic director of Persephone Productions, recognized the topicality as well as the originality of this British play, set in an industrial town in the north of England, when she stumbled across it in a catalogue. But she had already begun working on it by the time the Quebec government started talking about altering our adoption laws in the direction of open adoption.
What interested Soskin about this tale - told from the point of view of young unmarried mothers - was that while London was a swinging spot in the 1960s, "in a small town there was a different set of values going on," she said.
In Be My Baby, a 19-year-old girl named Mary Adams, seven months pregnant, finds herself living in a church-run institution, along with three other young women in a similar condition. They bond and find solace in the music of the girl bands of the era, such as the Ronettes (who recorded Be My Baby), the Dixie Cups (Chapel of Love) and the Shangri-Las (Leader of the Pack).
"The music is very interesting," Soskin said. "She (Whittington) put it there to lift the darkness of the story. Girls of that time, and today, find terrific comfort in love songs. They sing for joy, really, because they love the songs. Whenever they can, they turn on their little radio and they sing."
Soskin found the play, first produced in London in 1997, very touching. But she wasn't sure how it would translate on this side of the Atlantic.
"Dialects are very difficult to sustain," she said. "So I've set it as if it was anywhere. I've left some of the British things in it. But I don't think it's a play about British girls."
The six characters in Be My Baby include a matron and a mother of one of the young women about to give birth.
Soskin said she made sure that the older characters were understood as products of their time. "They're not villains," she said. "They can't be judged by our modern view of things." The girls are different, too, she added. "These girls in the '60s were much younger than their counterparts today. You have to realize the tiny, closed society from which they come. All of them are naive, except one." One of the key lines in the play, she said, is "You mean I have no choice?" - delivered by a girl who, up until that point, hadn't realized the full extent of her situation.
The play highlights the "powerlessness of women at that time," Soskin said. To underline that point, for this production only, she's working with an all-female team. Few women worked as stage managers, designers or directors back in the 1960s, she said, because women were "afraid to climb physical or emotional ladders."
Since founding Persephone Productions nine years ago, this now- retired John Abbott College professor has made it her mission to create work for the dozens of theatre students who are unleashed upon the Montreal scene every year with faint hope of meaningful employment. She favours material that offers solid acting opportunities. Performers are paid by honorarium only, since the company receives no government grants - a situation Soskin would like to see rectified in time for its 10th-anniversary season next year. "I'm very obsessive in my work and very committed," she said. "But it's tough to rent a theatre a year in advance if your bank account is empty."