Playing at George Street Playhouse through February 16, 2020 is the world premiere of the stage adaptation of the novel Midwives. The book by Chris Bohjalian sold more than 2 million copies since its publication. It was an early selection of Oprah’s Book Club and in 2001 was made into an award-nominated film. Now the book really comes to life as a play also written by Mr. Bohjalian. George Street Playhouse does a remarkable job with this production. The stage set design, the story development, and the acting make this a play well worth going to see.
Stage Design - The newly opened Arthur Laurents Theater provides a large stage where the action unfolds. The set is open with no curtain to displace any views of what takes place. That is important because part of this story involves people looking at what really happened to Charlotte Fugett Bedfort the night she lost her life. Attempts to find the truth involve looking back at an event that had no photos and few eyewitnesses. But some of it lies in papers that midwife Sibyl Danforth keeps on all her deliveries. Finding those journals is another essential element that the staging assists.
The set design by Shoko Kambara is versatile in that it shows the room where the mother comes for the birth. But the background made heavily of trees shows how far into the Vermont wilderness the home is which is critical to the distance from needed medical facilities. The lighting by David Lander is somber throughout the play. Even when the set converts to become the courtroom, the lighting comes up but still has a shadow of what has taken place.
The versatility of the set design allows flashback scenes to appear very natural. As the present day presents its memories, there is still enough of the past showing to make it believable and poignant.
Story Development - The story has a well organized format for a play. It is told from the viewpoint of Connie Danforth as an adult looking back. Connie is on her OBGYN rotation in her training to become a doctor as she recalls the event in 1985 that forever changed her family. Her mother, Sibyl Danforth, is a practicing midwife in rural Vermont. She has been successful in a long career. Her husband, Rand, and daughter, Connie, prepare for their own day. A snowstorm is due but not much is said.
Sibyl goes to the Bedford home where Charlotte and Asa live. Charlotte is very vocal about wanting her baby to be born at home. Charlotte’s labor is a very difficult and long one. Eventually, both Sibyl and her assistant Anne, recognize that she needs to be transported to the hospital. But the phone lines are down and no roads are clear due to the ice that comes with the snowstorm.
Being an experienced midwife, Sibyl works hard to control the situation as Anne pumps tension. The action reaches a high pitch as Sibyl takes a knife to do an emergency Caesarean to save the baby after she believes that Charlotte is dead. The sounds of the storm raging outside add to the belief that there was no option in what happened. The baby is successfully delivered but the mother is dead. The first act ends.
Due to information Anne provides, an investigation into Charlotte’s death takes place. The contention is that Charlotte was not dead when Sibyl thought she was and that she killed her by doing the Caesarean. Her trial takes place eventually leading to a not guilty verdict. But later, information comes out that leaves doubts in the minds of the Danforths.
There are several critical moments in this play that leave audiences uncertain as well. The fine direction work of Mr. Saint provides a impressive experience for those who see Midwives.
Powerful Acting - The show features a strong cast who turn in powerful performances. The accomplished Ellen McLaughlin gives a remarkable performance as the midwife, Sibyl Danforth. Molly Carden plays the difficult role of her daughter, Connie Danforth as she watches her mother loose all she loved doing in life. John Bolger plays Rand Danforth, Sibyl’s supportive husband.
Monique Robinson does a superb job playing Charlotte Fugett Bedford. Ryan George plays her loving and concerned husband Asa Bedford. Grace Experience plays the apprentice, Anne Austin, who wants to believe Sibyl but has concerns. Michael Cullen plays Judge Howard Dorset and Dr. Terry Tierney. Armand Schultz plays Bill Tanner and Lee Sellars plays Stephen Hastings.
Additional Information about Midwives - Performances of the George Street Playhouse production of Midwives are at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, 9 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, NJ. The show runs approximately 2 hours with one intermission.
This is an excellent play for those who enjoy a drama. This very fine production is a wonderful way to premiere a new play. I suspect this is one we will hear more about in the future.
For tickets, call 732-246-7717 or visit georgestreetplayhouse.org
PHOTOS © T Charles Erickson Photography
Let's Go to the Theater helps people learn more about about live theater and develop appreciation for this art form. Karen M. Nowosad is the founder of the site. The enjoyment Karen gets from going to the theater is something she wants to share with others.