In Normalcy at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Bennett Windheim has ostensibly written a story about an upper middle class, white couple named Sarah (Aleisha Force) and Peter (Judson Jones), who are seeking to adopt a black child.
It's a noble and enormous subject, and one fitting for a play in 2012. But Normalcy ultimately lacks both electricity and a clear understanding of its subject.
Indeed, the work's two hours and forty minutes are so cluttered with other topics of debate — I counted at least 15, ranging from vegetarianism to the merits of fashion journalism — that it takes approximately one third of its running time to even bring up that basic conflict.
This strategy might work if we were seeing those different themes "through the lens" of the couple's desire for transracial adoption, as one might expect. Instead, we're left with an under-cooked stew of disconnected, didactic speeches, often capped with revealing lines like, "But enough of that" and "Step away from the soapbox." It's a Shavian work without the wit.
It's also sadly low on flesh-and-blood characters. Sarah and Peter are stereotypical representations of clueless Yuppies, although Jones acquits himself with a refreshingly understated performance. Force's character has no dramatic arc – and undergoes no unexpected transformation – leaving the actress with little to play.
Conversely, Mary Ann Hay and Harvey Guion fare worse playing a shallowly written mother and father. Guion brings some satisfying energy to a climactic confrontation with the couple, but he peaks far too early in the play with his blustery, one-note characterization. And director Benard Cummings has Hay take on a distracting French accent that does her no favors.
Only the three African American roles in the play are written with relative complexity. Sarah Joyce and Darlene Hope do their best as Peter's business colleague and as the couple's adoption agency counselor, respectively. And Lisha Mckoy, as a young black woman sharing her experience as the adopted child of a white couple, is probably the best actor in the cast. But her role is strangely shoe-horned in as a plot device.
What would have been far more compelling is if Windheim had brought onstage the young black boy that the couple considers adopting. We never meet him and, as a result, we never really see the pulsing hearts of his prospective parents.