Review: Hypothetical Baby

by Lynn on December 15, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space. Produced by The Howland Company. Playing until Dec. 17, 2023.

Written and performed by Rachel Cairns

Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

A deeply personal and intellectually rigorous exploration of the many issues surrounding the choice to have a baby or not and all the existential, societal and ethical questions surrounding it.  

In 2019, actor Rachel Cairns learned she was pregnant. She was careful but the IUD device slipped and that compromised her protection. She wanted a baby eventually but not now. Her reasons were many: not the right time; she didn’t make enough money as an actor to bring a child into the world; what kind of a world would that be; what about the issues of climate change, etc. Her boyfriend did not voice a strong opinion. It was her choice.  

What followed was Cairns doing copious Google searches about the various questions that bothered her. At times the bombardment of facts, screens and information projected on the back wall of the set was like information overload. But that is the point. Cairns and Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, her rigorous, gifted director put the audience right in the middle of Cairns’ experience.

When Cairns went to the claustrophobic doctor’s office with her mother as support, the audience felt the closeness of the room. When Cairns took the pills that would begin the purging process the audience got a hint of the gut-wrenching pain, discomfort, emotional upheaval and the multitude of feelings she experienced.

While Cairns began her solo show by focusing on the personal, she then broadened the scope of her observations by noting how lucky she was to have health-care and the means to make the decision while others: Indigenous women, disadvantaged women; women from other countries not as prosperous as Canada, do not have that advantage.

Cairns explored the question of when life begins by having a kind of imagined debate with an on-line guru on abortion. It was extended, thought-provoking and even had the guru question Cairns about why she gave this person so much credence. Cairns’ show is serious but it’s got moments of wonderful humour. Cairns knows how to shape an argument and a joke in equal measure.

And she’s not afraid to make herself look privileged when she least expects it. She notes an evening she and her boyfriend had when they went out with a Pakistani couple who were friends of her boyfriend. The couple had children. Cairns, taking on the voice of the Pakistani wife, calmly yet pointedly explained how culture and societal dictates present an entirely different situation for women. They don’t have a choice about having children; are under the thumb of their husbands, or might be abused. The speech was chilling. It was one of several that made you sit up and suck air.

Hypothetical Baby is a sobering, deep look at a question many women ponder. Rachel Cairns gives her audience a lot to think about. She’s a terrific writer and actor.

The Howland Company presents:

Plays until Dec. 17, 2023.

Running time: 85 minutes.

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