Edgy and sweet, tenacious and joyous, raucous and calm, crude and demure: Mariah MacCarthy long has been refining a theater of extremes. This self-described “writer/producer/creatrix” co-founded Caps Lock Theatre in 2012 and has been perfecting her craft for years. In her one woman show Baby Mama: One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People, playing at IRT through January 29, 2017, MacCarthy has honed a theatrical evening out of life events including the 2012 birth of the son she gave away through an adoption agency to a carefully selected gay couple.
“I know that a hugely pregnant woman enters the room with an elephant that she brings with her.” MacCarthy says deep in her solo show, a woman-coming-into-her-own memoir that includes details about that elephant, a lot of humor, and even a few moments of burlesque.
MacCarthy explained that she was inspired to try out the format after viewing one of the artist Diana Oh‘s solo shows that hinged on the simple concept of songs inspired by romantic relationships. While she doesn’t usually write for herself as a performer, she was inspired to perform her own story for political and philosophical more than artistic reasons.
“The choice was between one loving parent, or three. How could I not choose three?”
The unplanned pregnancy at the core of the solo show leads to MacCarthy’s personal choice of adoption rather than abortion, and navigating personal and social expectation of pregnancy, birth, motherhood and giving up a child by choice. “If you’re not babyproofing your home and shopping for pediatricians,” MacCarthy says in the play, “being pregnant changes everything but it also doesn’t really change anything.” This solitude and silencing, she told me, led to casting herself in her lead role. “I’m not usually an actor. But because so much of the show and my experience deals with invisibility and feeling isolated because no one around you knows what it’s like to go through this thing, doing it myself was an antidote.”
The power of MacCarthy’s choices, and the poetry of her language, punctuate Baby Mama. Toward the end of the show she reflects upon her choice to place her son Leo in an open adoption where he grows up knowing her. “The only thing I have to offer Leo is my love, a love he still gets if I choose adoption. The choice was between one loving parent, or three. How could I not choose three?”
MacCarthy describes herself as a dabbler in several art forms. “I’m a burlesque dabbler. I rap sometimes, I briefly experimented with stand up. I occasionally get on stage and do a thing, but usually it’s a five or ten-minute thing, more of a novelty. I wrote a rap about vegetarian girls, or a burlesque number. Other than the routine I do at the end of Baby Mama, I don’t think there’s any burlesque routine I’ve done more than once.” She is writing a young adult novel slated for publication in Fall 2018, writes short stories and articles about her experience as a birth mother. Baby Mama has just been published by Original Works Publishing.
When I mused about connections between the costume, presentation and performance styles I’d observed in Oh’s My Lingerie Play and in work by playwright and performance artist Taylor Mac, MacCarthy agreed quickly and reminded me that Oh was in Mac’s 24-Decade History of American Popular Music as a musician and “dandy minion.” Artistic connections from Mac using Oh, to Oh inspiring MacCarthy, and MacCarthy using Oh in her work are real and lovely. At the same time, she underscored the importance of protecting friends in her very personal creations. “It was finding a balance to how you take care of other people when they are part of your life and therefore part of your work,” she recalled.
Her friend Oh is “all over the show in ways that you wouldn’t even know watching it.” MacCarthy generated the first twenty pages of Baby Mama at a 2013 Pennsylvania writing retreat Filling the Well, run by Oh. This was the year after two births: MacCarthy’s son and Caps Lock. In January 2014 she participated in a BugHouse SPIN storytelling evening about mothers. That 13-minute slice of the current show was recorded, uploaded, and viewed all over the world. Additional readings took place at Bowery Poetry, Red Room, Dixon Place, a 2014 summer EST/Youngblood writing retreat at SPACE on Ryder Farm, followed by an early 2015 run at EST, and 2016 visits to fringe festivals in Cincinnati and San Diego, where McCarthy grew up. Caps Lock is currently part of the IRT 3B Development Series, which allows them access to space and an artistic home. Directors and collaborators Leta Tremblay and Sara Lyons “got me to be more specific, dramaturgically, every step of the way.”
This piece has been developed in stages, at many venues, before many audiences. MacCarthy’s “Team Mariah” that stands with her throughout her pregnancy and by her side when her son is born is mirrored by an extended team of artists, organizations and audiences responding to her work, hearing her voice, underscoring the fact that she is delightfully and powerfully visible.