Leslie’s problems don’t result so much from what she says, as from what she doesn’t say.
Leslie, the protagonist of “Foster Mom” — a well-crafted new comedy-drama that the Premiere Stages series at Kean University in Union is presenting through Sept. 24 — is a 39-year-old published poet who does corporate writing to pay her bills, and is single. At the start of the play — written by Chris Cragin-Day, and the winner of the 2017 Premiere Stages Play Festival — she begins the process of possibly becoming a foster mother some day.
But Leslie (played by Ariel Woodiwiss) keeps it from her meddling but well-meaning mother, Sarah (Kate Kearney-Patch), even though she will have to lean on Sarah for support if she goes through with it.
Sarah, who is eager to get Leslie married, introduces her to the nice, handsome, well-mannered Josh (Kurt Uy), who has been engaged twice (without marrying) and owns his own computer business. Soon, their blind date turns into a serious relationship. But Leslie hesitates to tell him about her interest in foster parenting, too.
Clearly, Leslie has some issues to work through. And she does so with the help of the play’s fourth character, Sophie (Stori Ayers), the social worker assigned to help determine if Leslie will be approved for foster motherhood. Sophie is caring and sensitive but also all business, and sees right through Leslie’s neuroses. Ayers does a great job of conveying her cool efficiency. This is a woman who won’t let herself get exasperated, we suspect, because she just doesn’t have the time and energy to waste on that.
So Leslie, ultimately, doesn’t just have to dispel her own doubts. She has to make Sophie see that she’s worthy. Will she win her over? Will she let Josh in on her plans? Will Josh — seemingly husband material, but possibly commitment-shy — stick with her, when and if she tells him?
And, perhaps most crucially, if he she ever gets approved, and gets the call that some child is in desperate need of a home, will she have the strength, and confidence in herself, to say yes?
Cragin-Day, wisely, doesn’t answer all the questions definitively, while still bringing the story to a hopeful, emotionally satisfying conclusion.
In one sense, “Foster Mom” is a topical play. You learn a lot about the process: how children get into the foster system, how potential foster parents get approved, how contact between a foster parent and a foster child is made. It will also give you some insight into the psychological issues that tend to come into play.
But the issues don’t overshadow the story, or the warm humor that Cragin-Day builds into most of the scenes. I’m not sure that she chose the best title for the play, though, because it leads you to suspect she has a narrow focus. And “Foster Mom,” ultimately, feels universal.
Premiere Stages presents “Foster Mom” at the Zella Fry Theatre at Kean University in Union through Sept. 24. Visit premierestagesatkean.com.
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