When Annie and Peter decide to adopt, they come to set their sights on a child from Africa. But when the reality of this choice sinks in, it opens a well of uncertainty that speaks to their very identity as White Americans. Politically-charged and tack-sharp, The Call is a startling portrait of cultural divide, casting global issues into the heart of an American home.
AG: I’m always curious how writers first came to theater. You grew up in Portland, right?
TB: I was born in San Francisco, and grew up in Portland.
What kind of theater were you first aware of as a kid?
Actually, I didn’t come from a family that went to theater, or had a real relationship to theater. I remember I said offhandedly to my mother at one point, “Well you know I didn’t see plays as a kid. The first play I saw was when I was fifteen.” And she said, “That’s not true! You saw the San Francisco premiere of Hair when you were two years old and you cried all the way through it. I had to leave at intermission.” And I said, “Well, it is sort of a loud show.”
I did not want to write this play. I refused. Without realizing what I was doing, I pointedly and stubbornly refused. It wouldn’t make a good play, I thought. And I didn’t know how to write it. What I knew—what I was known for—were plays about the African-American experience through history. I did not want to write a contemporary play, a play close to me, a play about adoption.
And so I didn’t write.
And I didn’t write.
I didn’t write.
Those of you who saw Tanya Barfield’s Blue Door here in 2006 may be struck, when you read her Playwright’s Perspective, by a kind of shadow parallel between that play and Tanya’s description of the genesis of The Call. Blue Door tells the story of a super-assimilated African American math professor who becomes increasingly haunted by specters from America’s and his own ancestral history. The path that led Tanya to write The Call seems to have run in reverse. She describes how her natural predisposition to write about African American history seemed to leave her as the specter of her own personal story began to call to her.
We live in an increasingly globalized civilization, evermore aware of the connections between our lives and the lives of our co-inhabitants on the planet, not only across political and geographic borders but also across time. One can hardly consider any aspect of the modern world in isolation. Watching the morning news, logging onto Facebook, strolling through supermarket aisles, we see everyday proof that the world is increasingly interlinked, a web of enmeshed connections, events and handshakes. And as a result, not to sound too much like Yoko Ono or somebody, our cultural views are evolving to become less myopic, the experience of our lives becoming more tied to the experiences of people we’ve never met.
“I remember being at the store and seeing Angelina on the cover of, I think it was People magazine, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh! We can do this.’”
– Adoptive mother of Ethiopian child on “Good Morning America,” 2005
African adoption has been thrust into the international spotlight. The last seven years saw 41,000 African children adopted overseas, predominantly by French and American families. Those numbers stand in stark contrast to the larger global slump in transnational adoption. While intercountry adoption rates on the whole have plummeted to a fifteen year low, Africa has witnessed a threefold rise in foreign adoption. Celebrity publicity aside, what explains the sudden influx of Westerners adopting African children?