On a recent Thursday around 7 p.m., the people clustered outside Dillon’s on West 54th looked a bit uncomfortable. Could it have been the giant sign over their heads that said INFERTILITY? Possibly. But Dillon’s is not a clinic—it’s a bar with a small dinner theater in the back—and Infertility is a musical.
Yes, a musical. About infertility. It’s the brainchild of author– composer–infertility veteran Chris Neuner, whose goal is to get people talking about a painful topic still shrouded in taboo. With infertility affecting millions, it’s peculiar that it’s so hush-hush and that pop culture, which could help demystify the matter, can’t seem to do better than NBC’s unwatchable Inconceivable. I say, if you can write a musical about a demon barber who turns people into pies, everything’s up for grabs. So, sure, there’s room in the world for a good musical on the subject.
Infertility, however, may not be that musical. Much like its one major precursor, 1983’s Baby, the show weaves together three different baby-making plots: yuppie lesbians seeking a sperm donor, midwestern breeders undergoing IVF, an underachieving singleton trying to adopt. The performers are talented, the characters sympathetic; while not terribly nuanced, they do dodge obvious stereotypes. (Exception: the Chinese adoption officials, who are presented as sensitively as Hong Kong Phooey.) Overall, the production is rueful, poignant, and—aside from the “able-bodied semen” puns—occasionally even funny.
But infertility, I can tell you, is not rueful. Or poignant. It’s crazy-makingly shitty. Funny? Sure—but only in the pitch-dark sense. Which is where this show misses: It’s too earnest, too tame. It’s in such a rush to make everyone feel better—or at least “understood”—that it only hints at the surreal pain of its subject. Where’s the rage, the resentment, the sensation of being followed around Brooklyn by gangs of evil baby strollers?
The solution? I say go dark. Not bummer-dark. Funny-dark. (Avenue IVF.) Infertility goes there occasionally—an adoption interview becomes a bad-cop interrogation—but then, boom, it’s back to wistful. Instead of lyrics like “We used to make love and the whole house shook; now we make love by the date planner book,” how about a musical number called—to quote my friend’s description—“The Bataan Sex March”?
An edgier show might have wider appeal. Infertility’s sincere agenda limits its audience to, well . . . whom? Do people dealing with infertility want to pay $60 to do so on their downtime? (I can weep into my gimlet at home, see.) Will everyone else, i.e., all those people who get pregnant just by sneezing—which would also be a funny number—be interested? Unclear. But if Infertility does its bit to make a few people less uncomfortable, for now, it’ll have to do.