“I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this play,’” says Threshold Rep’s artistic director, Jay Danner. “It’s creepy and excessively sad.” He thought it was important, though, so he forged ahead. The play deals extensively with postpartum depression ... until it doesn’t. That’s the “creepy” part that Danner is referring to; you don’t know if Mari, a new mom, is sad, tired, or going insane. And at times, you don’t know if you are either.
After delivering her baby in a home birth, Mari wakes up to find that something isn’t quite right with the newborn. The issue? As she says to her husband, “That’s not our baby.”
The play progresses from here, with Mari convinced that the newborn in her possession is not her actual child. The scenes, featuring a frantic Mari and frustrated Peter, offer the audience what the Chicago Tribune’s 2013 review of the show called, “a mounting sense of dread.”
“It changes your marriage,” says Danner, who has witnessed people close to him struggle with postpartum depression. “And then you take it another step — sleep deprivation plays tricks on your mind.” One of those tricks is Amy, a woman Mari meets in the park near her house. We are never sure if Amy is real or not, and neither is Mari.
But one thing that is certainly not real, (to the audience at least) is the baby in the play, which is represented by a plastic doll. “The actors make the choice to play real,” says Danner, adding that every actor in the play spent time practicing the delicate ways in which you handle newborn babies. “You think about it at first but then you stop thinking about it.”
This blurring of reality is what Danner calls a “slow burn.” “The play moves along,” he says. “It starts at a nice place and then it slowly creates a knot in your stomach.”
The play is a one-act production just shy of two hours and in Threshold Rep’s theater the actors are just feet from the audience in front of them. “It’s cinematic with short scenes,” says Danner. “You see more of the human story and the real struggle with human beings dealing with this depression in their lives.”