Valencia nurtures theme of life

Playwright Kristine Thatcher's award-winning "Emma's Child" is the kind of domestic tragedy that one might expect to see on the Lifetime network. It's about Henry and Jean Farrell, an upwardly mobile couple, who make arrangements to adopt after 13 unsuccessful years of trying to conceive. All is well until Robin is born hydrocephalic with little chance for survival. Biological mother Emma disappears, leaving the baby in limbo.

Although the couple contracted for a healthy infant, Jean becomes attached to Robin and, despite the objections of husband, hospital staff and friends, continues to care for and bond with him. Her zeal threatens her marriage, and her best friend Franny's extramarital affair complicates the issues. But the Farrells decide to try to repair their relationship. And when Robin dies, the characters are left to ponder the connectedness of human life.

The Valencia Character Company presents a decent production of a play that's become a favorite for civic and regional theaters since its premiere in 1995. The theme of life's interconnectedness is well-served by Michael Shugg's handsome set with its symbolic oversized hospital privacy curtain. A meeting room, the neonatal intensive-care unit and the Farrells' living room are placed on curved interlocking platforms. Director Julia Gagne furthers the theme by having the actors address each other from different areas, blending the scenes together.

Anne Hodges' portrayal of Jean is especially moving. Dean Walkuski, while a bit too energetic, does a superb job of capturing the age and humor of Henry.

Thatcher's writing is often witty, especially the description of New York City delivered with panache by Steve Drucker as Franny's deserted husband. But Thatcher's major accomplishment is in centering a play around an absent protagonist, whose struggles, triumphs and defeats are related by others.

Personally I loathe domestic tragedies and their underlying self-righteous morality. But Valencia's competent production allowed me to set aside my prejudices long enough to enjoy watching the actors connect to the emotional center of "Emma's Child."