- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

Reluctant to turn off the Lifetime network or the Hallmark Channel even for one night? With Round House Theatre’s heartstrings-yanking production of “Midwives,” you can experience both live theater and the issues-du-jour platitudes delivered by women-centric cable channels.

Playwright Dana Yeaton’s uninspired adaptation of Chris Bohjalian’s best-selling novel turns a crisp medical cliffhanger into a fuzzy-wuzzy tale of reconciliation between a mother and daughter before Ma’s chemotherapy IV bag runs out.

The novel is narrated by the daughter, Connie (Stephanie Burden), an adult piecing together the worst year of her life, when she was 14 and caught up in her mother’s trial for involuntary manslaughter.

In 1984, Sibyl Danforth (Alma Cuervo), a respected New England midwife, performed an emergency cesarean section with a kitchen knife during an arduous labor, believing the mother had died from a stroke. But was the mother, Charlotte (Kimberly Parker Green), still alive when Sibyl performed the ghastly procedure?

There was something inexplicably poignant in the novel about the daughter sifting through the conflicting feelings and circumstances surrounding her mother’s greatest professional and personal tragedy, coupled with her own thorny coming-of-age story.

In the stage adaptation, the narration shifts to Sibyl, who talks from the oncology unit about what happened more than 10 years earlier while she is haunted by the pregnant ghost of Charlotte, who hovers about the action in a bloody nightgown. Inexplicably, Charlotte hops off the bed to become the judge in the second act, presiding over Sibyl’s trial, unnecessarily upping the emotional stakes.

A further attempt to make the audience blubber comes from moving Connie and Sybil’s estrangement front and center. What once was a riveting tale of uncertainty, conscience and lingering guilt surrounding a desperate medical decision has been made into a maudlin weeper about a prickly daughter making up with her mother before it’s too late.

The spare, brambled beauty of James Kronzer’s set elegantly frames the courtroom medical drama. Yet the trial is dispensed with in perfunctory fragments, with the lawyers (Paul Morella and John Lescault) popping up from time to time to deliver wispy legal arguments.

The response from the medical community — who viewed Sybil’s choice as a means for a witch hunt against alternative medicine — and from the rural New England community are downplayed as well, draining “Midwives” of its dramatic tension.

Miss Burden is dithering and screechy as Connie and could take a few cues from the arresting stillness of Miss Parker Green’s Charlotte. However, Miss Cuervo redeems the production by instilling Sybil with a radiant sense of fairness. Sybil may have been a product of the ‘60s, but her hippie roots are deepened by an overall aura of caring and calm sensibility.

This stage adaptation of “Midwives” has too much heart and not enough pulse.

**

WHAT: “Midwives” by Dana Yeaton

WHERE: Round House Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 26.

TICKETS: $25 to $50

PHONE: 240/644-1100

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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