‘The Surrogate’ offers an amusing portrait of an extended modern family

PHOTOS BY ROBERT EBERLE

From left, Diana Cherkas, Caitlin Duffy, Susan Barrett and Clark Carmichael co-star in “The Surrogate,” which is at the Sitnik Theater in Hackettstown through March 5.

At one point in “The Surrogate,” currently playing at the Sitnik Theater in Hackettstown, Billy is frustrated by the fact that his best friend, Margaret, is reluctant to agree to take custody of his children if both he and his wife die.

“Relax,” Billy (played by Clark Carmichael) tells her. “What are the odds of us both dying?”

“Well, I think the odds are, eventually, 100 percent,” Margaret (Katrina Ferguson) deadpans.

Moments later, Billy’s wife Sara (Diana Cherkas) has agreed to a prolonged stay from her cantankerous mother, Rita (Catherine Rust), who lives out of town, and Billy is not happy about that.

“Could you have said no to your mother?” asks Sara.

“My parents are considerate enough to be dead,” Billy jokes.

At these lines suggest, the characters in this new play use wisecracks and wry asides to deal with the meaty issues that playwright Patricia Cotter throws their way. “The Surrogate,” as a result, is fast-paced and frequently amusing, though not exactly profound. There’s a sitcom-like quality to it that makes it seem a little more old-fashioned than its subject matter might lead you to believe.

The play — which won the Centenary Stage Company’s Susan Glaspell Award last year, and was one of 54 finalists in last year’s O’Neill National Playwrights Conference — is set in the present, in the San Francisco area. Sara, a 30-something lawyer, is insecure, and a bit of a control freak — not an ideal scenario for someone whose second child is currently residing in the womb of a paid surrogate, Crystal (Caitlin Duffy), especially when it becomes clear that Crystal does not follow all the health guidelines for expectant mothers that Sara would (e.g., she eats sushi).

Diana Cherkas, left, and Catherine Rust in “The Surrogate.”

Complicating everything, Sara has kept the fact that she’s using a surrogate from from Rita, and has lied to Rita, as well, to get the money she and Billy need to pay for Crystal and all the medical bills connected to the surrogacy. You know that can’t end well, especially after Rita, who lives in New Zealand, tells Sara she has to make the unexpected visit.

Also, Sara and Billy just assume that Margaret and Jen (Susan Barrett), a lesbian couple, will jump at the chance to raise their children, if disaster strikes. Margaret and Jen don’t want that, at all, but are too diplomatic to just come out and say so.

With the help of a revolving stage, the action frequently shifts from Sara and Billy’s house in the suburbs to Margaret and Jen’s, in the city, and spends more or less an equal amount of time on each relationship. Crystal comes to stay with Billy and Sara, at first, but then moves to Margaret and Jen’s place after Rita arrives.

There are a lot of arguments and hurt feelings along the way — and a kiss between two people who shouldn’t be kissing, though that is quickly forgiven instead of blowing up into a major issue. 

The characters muddle through, and eventually arrive at a sweet, hopeful ending — a makeshift extended family, making up the rules as they go along.

The Centenary Stage Company presents “The Surrogate” at the Sitnik Theater at the Lackland Performing Arts Center at Centenary University in Hackettstown through March 5. Visit centenarystageco.org.

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