Running through June 28 at the InterAct Theatre Company (2030 Sansom Street in Philadelphia,PA), Michael Whistler’s Little Lamb examines the issues that many adoptive couples face when both members happen to be of the same sex. At the same time, however, it does so much more. In addition to examining issues related to sexual orientation, the play also investigates the ways in which race and religion factor into our notions of justice, ethics, and morality. In other words, Little Lamb offers a thoughtful, complex look at many of the so-called “family values” that are too often over-simplified by the mainstream media.
The play centers on Denny and Jose, a gay couple intent on adopting a child. While at first glance the couple may appear to be somewhat stereotypical — Denny tends to get emotional over rare Ethel Merman recordings while Jose is a former lounge singer with the chiseled physique of a dancer — Whistler’s use of these types is quite intelligent, particularly given the challenge of portraying what might be termed a “gay issue” for a “straight” audience. By beginning with figures that a mainstream audience already knows, Whistler opens a door for further investigation. Yes, Denny likes Ethel Merman, but that’s not the full extent of who Denny is, nor does Jose’s former life as a cabaret singer define him in his entirety. As the play progresses, both characters emerge as complicated, flawed, struggling, hopeful, and (above all) human. The result is that Little Lamb is not only a play that speaks to issues relevant to the gay community but a play that speaks to the human condition.
Bringing Denny and Jose to life in this production are actors Ames Adamson and Frank X, who are more than believeable in their roles. Throughout the play, Adamson imbues Denny with a fitting mix of righteous certainty and insecure bravado while X’s Jose balances out his partner with kindness, compassion, dry humor, and quiet dignity. Rounding out the cast, Cathy Simpson, Kaci M. Fannin, and Katrina Yvette Cooper provide a strong counterpoint to Adamson and X.
As the fulcrum upon which the play’s dramatic tension rests, Fannin deftly navigates the choppy waters between her character’s advocacy for her clients and her own religious leanings. Indeed, if anything in this play came as a surprise to me, it was the even-handed way in which Whistler depicts religion. It would be easy (perhaps too easy) to vilify religion in a play like this — to depict those with a religious inclination as crazy or ignorant — but Whistler never gives into that temptation. Rather, the zeal that moves his more religious characters manifests itself in a way that genuinely seeks to do good. Thus there are no heroes or villains in Little Lamb, only people trying their best to do the right thing — even if “the right thing” is at odds with someone else’s right thing and therefore must inevitably result in sorrow and heartbreak.
Overall, Little Lamb is a moving, engaging production that gets at the heart of what we mean when we discuss things like love and family, as well as right and wrong. For information on ordering tickets, you can visit the InterAct Theatre Company at their website: InterActTheatre.org.