Sequence

Sequence

By

John Allen Riggins*

*The playwright has included a series of Director’s Notes throughout that are designed to aid the directors’ and actors’ insight into the science and symbolism of Sequence.

SCENE 1

THREE COUPLES, ALL OF SIMILAR AGE, ARE DOWNSTAGE LEFT, CENTER, AND RIGHT IN COMPLETE DARKNESS. A SPOTLIGHT FADES IN AND ILLUMINATES THE COUPLE STAGE LEFT. BOTH ARE LYING ON THE GROUND, AND SHE HAS HER HEAD ON HIS CHEST WHILE HOLDING AN ULTRASOUND.

THATCHER:

(RUBBING WIFE’S STOMACH) Poor thing, he got your forehead.

ADELAIDE:

And your grainy eyes! He’ll pull them off well enough though. Imagine what they’ll see, Thatch.

THE SPOTLIGHT DISAPPEARS FROM THEM AND RISES ON THE COUPLE DOWNSTAGE CENTER. THEY ARE SEATED IN CHAIRS ACROSS FROM A DOCTOR WHO HAS A PICTURE OF EDWARDS SYNDROME. THE HUSBAND HAS HIS ARM AROUND HIS WIFE AND BOTH ARE CRYING.

     DOCTOR:

(SYMPATHETICALLY) It’s called Edwards Syndrome. It happens when extra genetic material appears on the eighteenth chromosome. The birth defects are often pretty severe.

Director’s notes: Trisomy 18, or Edwards syndrome, is a chromosomal abnormality that creates birth defects while the child is in utero. Edward’s syndrome has an extremely high rate of fatality, with five to ten percent of children living past their first year. Oftentimes, Edwards syndrome is the result of a random event during the formation of the eggs and sperm or during early cell division.

     GWEN:

(CRYING) But you said some do survive, right? Can I even have one day to meet Averett?

     DOCTOR:

Most are not live births, and less than one percent make it ten years. (Pause) I can’t tell you how sorry I am.

THE SPOTLIGHT DISAPPEARS FROM THEM AND RISES ON THE COUPLE DOWNSTAGE RIGHT. THEY ARE HUDDLED AROUND A PHONE.

     TESSA:

Bye y’all! So happy for you two!

     SHE HANGS UP THE PHONE.

     TESSA:

Ade and Thatch are pregnant?! Did you know?

     CAMERON:

He’s been dropping hints over text all day. Puns mainly. I bet their gender reveal is one for the ages.

     TESSA:

Yeah, I bet so. (PAUSE) Does that make you kind of rethink our five-year rule?

     CAMERON:

(SMILING) It does.

LIGHTS DOWN GENERAL

———————————————————–

SCENE II

THE RECORDED SOUND OF TWO PEOPLE HAVING A TELEVISED DEBATE IS HEARD OVER THE THEATER SPEAKERS. THE RECORDING PICKS UP MID-CONVERSATION. THE LIGHTS ARE STILL DOWN, BUT ONE LIGHT WITH THE WORD “SEQUENCE” STENCILED IN IT SLOWLY RISES ON CENTER STAGE.

REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH (VOICE VIA SPEAKERS):

–and what we are dealing with here is the rejection of the very attributes that make us human. Our genetics are randomly assigned, yes, but this elegant variation gives us personality, individuality, and sense of self–

     SENATOR TWINING:

(INTERRUPTING) Senator, please. You’re taking this technology out of context. What makes us human is the ability to chart our own course, one without diseases or fatal abnormalities. Nine of the ten leading causes of death in America are genetically linked. Nearly five thousand infants die every year from genetic disorders that could be resolved through–

     REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH:

Ladies and Gentlemen don’t let the Senator fool you. She argues for saving lives, but the recent developments in PGD go much further. Want blue eyes? Select that embryo. Want them to be tall? Pick that one. A computer can create whatever you want!

Director’s Notes:  It is important for the actors to understand the distinction the two debaters are making here. Twining believes Birch is bringing up the fear of designer babies, a theoretical process where genes could be inserted into an embryo to express a certain trade. PGD does not allow a parent to create the embryo directly. Birch is arguing that this is a semantic difference because, as he believes, PGD essentially allows a parent to sample dozens of embryos to select the one that has the traits that are closest to what they perceive as ideal.

     SENATOR TWINING:

Congressman, that is an incredible oversimplification of what this technology does. You’re using fear to legislate here–

     REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH:

(TALKING CONCURRENTLY) And what about individuals with Down Syndrome? We are telling them as a society that their existence is a mistake.

Director’s Notes: There has historically been push back from the community of people with disabilities who argue that increased use of PGD will result in lower rates of individuals with Down syndrome and, thus, increase the stigma of those with the disease.

     SENATOR TWINING:

(IN RESPONSE) You introduced a House Bill that would leave people in the dark about the genetic information of their child! People have a right to know!

     MODERATOR:

(FLUSTERED) Congressman Birch! Senator Twining! Excuse me. Excuse me.

     THE DEBATERS TURN THEIR ATTENTION TO THE MODERATOR.

     MODERATOR:

You each agreed to two uninterrupted minutes per-side for each question in this debate. Perhaps we should move to another topic. Transportation.

THE LIGHTS SLOWLY BEGIN TO RAISE GENERAL. CONCURRENTLY THE SOUND OF THE DEBATE BEGINS TO SUBSIDE TO A LOWER VOLUME. STAGE RIGHT, ADELAIDE IS LYING ON A COUCH, LOOKING UP AT THE TELEVISION. SHE IS NOTABLY PREGNANT. THATCHER ENTERS, STAGE RIGHT, AND STANDS BEHIND THE COUCH.

     MODERATOR:

(SOFTER) Representative, you’ve touted a proposal to fund a second hyperloop from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Do you envision this being operated through a public-private partnership or will taxpayers foot the construction and maintenance costs?

     THATCHER:

Who’s winning?

     ADELAIDE:

Probably the advertisers.

     SHE WAIVES HER HAND IN THE DIRECTION OF THE TELEVISION      AS IF SHOOING A FLY, AND THE RECORDING STOPS.

Director’s notes:  Throughout Sequence there are subtle allusions to genetics. Adelaide and Thatcher’s names mirror adenine and thymine, two nucleotide pairings that make the basis of DNA. Similarly, Cy and Gwen mirror the other base pairing, Cytosine and Guanine. The director and set designer should feel freedom to include other allusions with their creative choices. Sequence is meant to take place in a near future. The set designer and director should feel free to use creative license to create scenery and props that reflect a not-so-distant future.

     THATCHER:

Who would have thought that the ethics of genetic technologies would be a central issue in the mid-terms? I miss the old days where candidates had thoughtful discussions about each other’s haircuts and stamina. (BEAT) How are you feeling?

     ADELAIDE:

A little better. I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready to deliver than today.

THATCH GOES AROUND THE COUCH AND TAKES A SEAT WITH ADELAIDE’S LEGS ON HIS LAP.

THATCHER:

Only three months to go! (Beat) Oh, by the way, my parents are coming over in a little bit.

     ADELAIDE:

How late are they planning on staying? I’ve got that appointment with the O-B-Gyn tomorrow at eight.

     THATCHER:

Shouldn’t be too late. Mom just wanted to say hey and drop off coffee and dessert since we missed them at church the last two weeks.

     ADELAIDE:

Did she get those ginger cookies again?

     GWEN:

(OFFSTAGE)Hello! Are y’all upstairs?

     THATCH:

In here, Mom!

GWEN AND CY ENTER STAGE RIGHT.

     GWEN:

Guess what?! The Ginger Wafers are back in stock. Must be fall.

     ADELAIDE:

I’ll take those.

ADELAIDE GETS UP AND EMBRACES HER IN-LAWS. SHE OPENS THE GINGER COOKIES AND STARTS EATING.

     GWEN:

Ade-dear, you look lovely. Thatch, we brought over that stroller from the Groveners. It’s a little worn down, so maybe we should just buy a new one.

     THATCHER:

I’ll go grab it from the car.

     THATCH EXITS STAGE RIGHT.

     CY:

The old stroller is fine. Gwen’s just trying to find an excuse to buy you those new models with auto-uphill electric assist.

     ADELAIDE:

You don’t have to do that Mom. I’m going to need all the exercise I can get after he’s born. The past three days I’ve just been on the couch watching election coverage.

     GWEN:

That’s liable to make you feel worse, hon.

     CY:

What’re your thoughts on Birch? It seems like the writing’ on the wall for Senator Twining.

     ADELAIDE:

A little extreme for my liking, but he always struck me as genuine at least. We met with him briefly in the primary, right before the Judge conceded on election night. He assured us he would (USING AIR QUOTES) carry the standard for the moderate conservative, but it seems like he is moving more rightward to appeal to his base.

     CY:

He’s smart though; knows that the average Joe can’t relate to the K Street lawyer as easily as they can relate to the concerned father-figure.

     GWEN:

Barely seems old enough to be a father. Did he try to recruit you for the general election?

     ADELAIDE:

No, but his campaign manager scheduled a call with me for next Tuesday. I figure they’re going to ask for the Judge’s endorsement. They want the Judge’s moderate base. I don’t know which way our voters will go. Most of them told me they were voting for the Judge in the primary because he approaches these issues from a more objective position.

     CY:

Birch is an emotional firebrand to say the least.

     THATCH ENTERS STAGE RIGHT CARRYING A STROLLER.

     GWEN:

You’re supposed to roll those things, Son. That’s the whole point.

     THATCH:

One of the wheels is broken. I can probably fix it.

Director’s Notes: The conversation about the stroller is symbolic of reasoning those opposed to PGD use. The stroller is not “perfect,” but it is still useful. In the same way PGD is a way to avoid chromosomal defects, but those opposed to PGD suggest that chromosomal defects do not take away an individual’s worth.

     GWEN:

(TO ADELAIDE) Did I hear you say you’re going to the doctor tomorrow morning?

     ADELAIDE:

Yeah. Tessa is coming with me. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be a secret or not.

     GWEN:

(LAUGHING)Oh, I think the whole city knows that Cameron and Tessa want to have kids as quickly as possible.

     THATCH:

Cameron just wants to follow in big bro’s footsteps again.

     GWEN:

Okay, well we’ll go ahead and head out then. I know those checkups can be stressful. Just wanted to say hey. Come on, Cy.  Love you both.

     CY:

See y’all soon.

     CY AND GWEN EXIT STAGE RIGHT AS THE LIGHTS GO DOWN.

———————————————————-

SCENE III

LIGHTS UP STAGE RIGHT. ADELAIDE AND TESSA ARE SITTING IN A WAITING ROOM OF THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE.

ADELAIDE:

I guess I’m just more of a pragmatist. He said he wants to completely defund the Inmate Rehabilitation program, but surely there’s a way to offset it somewhere else.

     TESSA:

You’re probably right.

     ADELAIDE:

His supporters don’t realize there’s at least some room for a middle ground or some bipartisanship. We may not get anywhere if he wins and outlaws everything that his base fears.

     TESSA:

(SOFTLY) Yeah, crazy.

     ADELAIDE:

Sorry, I know you don’t want to hear about all that. Maybe I do need to get back to work. (BEAT) Did you like any of those pictures I sent you?

     TESSA:

(MORE ENGAGED) I did, thanks! Loved that candid one where Gwen is patting down Cy’s cowlick. We may put that one on the front if we end up printing out the album.

     ADELAIDE:

Thirty-five years of marriage and she still won’t give up hope that the double crown will lay flat for pictures. The first time I tried that Thatch told me: (IMITATING) I’m a mutant. No point in trying.

     A RECEPTIONIST ENTERS WITH AN ELECTRONIC TABLET.

RECEPTIONIST:

Mrs. McMillan, you can come on back.

TESSA AND ADELAIDE GET UP AND WALK TO CENTER STAGE WHERE LIGHT APPEARS. THEY TAKE A SEAT IN TWO CHAIRS. THE LIGHT GOES DOWN ON STAGE RIGHT.

ADELAIDE:

Doctor Robeson is great. Feel free to ask her anything. She’s actually on the research faculty here too.

DOCTOR ROBESON ENTERS AND SITS IN A CHAIR ACROSS FROM THEM.

DR. ROBESON:

Hi Ade. How are you?

     ADELAIDE:

Doing well! Dr. Robeson, This is my sister-in-law Tessa.

     TESSA:

Nice to meet you. You don’t mind if I sit in, right.

     ADELAIDE:

Her and her husband are thinking about having their first kid as well.

     DR. ROBESON:

Not at all. (BEAT) Have you had any swelling in your feet and hands since two weeks ago? Let’s also get you a whooping cough booster. I think we’re also due for a Glucose Challenge Screening.

     ADELAIDE:

Had a little pressure in my hands the other day, but nothing too noticeable.

     DR. ROBESON PICKS UP A SYRINGE FOR THE VACCINE.

     TESSA:

What does the Glucose Challenge Screening do?

     DOCTOR ROBESON:

That’s a routine test we do around the six-month mark to check for gestational diabetes.

     TESSA:

What other diseases do you check for during these visits?

     DOCTOR ROBESON:

Many of the tests we do are for genetic abnormalities. There’s one at three months, called a nuchal translucency, to measure the thickness of the fetus’s neck and another a month later, called amniocentesis to check for Neural Tube Defects.

     TESSA:

So, most of these tests are for genetic diseases?

     DOCTOR ROBESON:

Not all of them. There’s a lot of monitoring for infection or physiological development. Even things like fetal position. But we want to make sure to catch any genetic disease early.

     TESSA:

How does that relate to what’s been in the news lately about genetic screening much earlier in the process?

     DOCTOR ROBESON:

Well, many couples that are trying to conceive are now using Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis instead. It’s amazing how precise the science is now. Many of these tests that we used to do during the pregnancy are obsolete because PGD can determine which embryos will have those disorders before the fetus is even implanted.

ADELAIDE:

This has actually become a big issue this election cycle.

     TESSA:

Does that mean PGD is only an option during in vitro fertilization?

     DOCTOR ROBESON:

Right. Multiple eggs from the mother are taken from her ovaries and implanted with sperm from the father. Once these have grown for a couple days, we are able to get a full genetic profile. This used to only include chromosomal abnormalities or genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs or cystic fibrosis. About three days in, these embryos contain around eight cells, and we can test one of these cells. Then, we will implant the embryo into the mother’s uterus. Thousands of mothers have chosen PGD since it was invented in 1990 in an effort to decrease miscarriages and the need for early terminations of pregnancy.

Director’s Note:  Here, Doctor Robeson is describing the basics of PGD and in vitro fertilization, and the actor portraying should study further sources to ensure they are comfortable with the terminology used by medical professionals.

     ADELAIDE:

Oh, wow. I didn’t realize PGD had been around so long. It still seems like a futuristic concept to me.

     DOCTOR ROBESON:

And it used to be much more uncommon, especially when in vitro cost between ten thousand and twelve thousand dollars. On top of that PGD used to cost twenty-five hundred dollars minimum. Those costs decreased significantly over the past fifty years, and insurance companies have been more willing to cover in vitro and PGD.

     TESSA:

Why is it such a big issue now if it’s been around so long? Ade was telling me that she would meet people at campaign events who didn’t have more than a high school education, but knew the precise science surrounding this stuff.

DOCTOR ROBESON PLACES A BLOOD PRESSURE CUFF ON ADELAIDE.

     ADELAIDE:

Yeah, I think many of the voters on the right, the Judge’s and Birch’s, are fearful that the new advances in PGD are the next step towards designer babies.

     DOCTOR ROBESON:

Could you roll your sleeve up a little more?

     ADELAIDE:

From what I understand, the existing science can’t actually change the genetics of an embryo though. Instead, this new technology allows the geneticist to look even deeper and more precisely into the genetic make-up of the existing in vitro embryos.

     TESSA:

But if we can now look deeply into an embryo’s genetic material, we could see what traits will ultimately be expressed, right? People always talk about a fear that parents will want children with blonde hair and blue eyes, but that just seems to be a superficial example. I would be more concerned with concocting a certain personality.

     DOCTOR ROBESON:

Well, PGD only works to the extent that the parents have certain alleles. In the superficial example of eye or hair color, two parents with brown eyes wouldn’t be able to pick an embryo that will lead to a child with blue eyes. You can only make a cake with the ingredients you already have in the pantry, if you know what I mean.

     TESSA:

Assuming some of the ingredients were not preselected precisely for their genetic profile.

     DOCTOR ROBESON:

I suppose that is always a possibility, but donors are free to choose who provides the gamete. (BEAT) Of course, this is a huge benefit for couples with a history of genetic diseases. We can even look to the potential for Alzheimer’s or Huntington disease, which express much later in life. It would be a little backwards to take away that option. (PAUSE) Ade, if you follow me, we can start the glucose screening.

     LIGHTS DOWN.

———————————————————-

SCENE IV

LIGHTS UP CENTER ON CY AND CAMERON AROUND A STUMP WITH A PILE OF UNSPLIT WOOD AND AN AXE. THE THREE MEN ARE DRESSED IN COLD-WEATHER CLOTHES.

     CY:

Cam, you need to sharpen this thing, it’s duller than your brother.

THATCH ENTERS STAGE LEFT. HE IS CARRYING AN UNSPLIT LOG UNDER EACH ARM.

     THATCHER:

You’re strong enough, Dad. I’m sure it won’t be a problem.

THERE IS A LONG PAUSE. CY SPLITS ONE OF THE LOGS, CAMERON INSPECTS THE WOOD, AND THATCHER TAKES A SEAT IN A CAMPING CHAIR.

CAMERON:

So, are you ready to be a father, Thatch?

     THATCHER:

Nope!

     CY:

All these years with the model father didn’t prepare you?

     THATCHER:

(LAUGHS) I think a lot has changed since you were raising us, Dad. I’ll probably never have to drag my kids outside in the cold to split wood. Why don’t you and Mom just get a hydrogen fuel cell fireplace installed?

     CY:

Oh, come on city boy, hydrogen fuel cells don’t give you callouses. Y’all know you’ve always loved splitting wood. Plus, some things aren’t even about the practicality. I wanted to share this experience with my sons because it was something my Dad and me always did. It’ll give you something to remember me by when I can’t remember you.

     CAMERON:

Not funny Dad.

     CY:

Just pokin’ at you.

CY LIGHTLY JABS CAMERON IN HIS STOMACH AS CAMERON DEFLECTS THE HITS.

     THATCHER:

No, you’re right Dad. These activities we’ve always done, now my kiddos will get to be a part of them. One day we will be out here with our kids splitting wood, Lord willing. But it is a little overwhelming, if I’m honest. All these bad habits I have, now I have to worry about my kids latching onto them. Now that it’s only three months ‘til go-time, I wonder what I can iron out. For all the positive traits Ade and I have, I know there are tendencies we have that we don’t want to pass to our kids.

     CAMERON:

You definitely aren’t the first one to struggle with that idea, Thatch. We’ve actually been talking about something similar in Seminary. For centuries cultures believed in an idea of generational sin. That’s the idea that sons and daughters were cursed for their parents’ evil actions. Sometimes that punishment would be through disease or sometimes the children were forced to have the same destructive tendencies.

     THATCHER:

That would make our patterns inescapable. Kind of a scary thought.

CY SPLITS ANOTHER LOG. CAMERON STACKS THE WOOD IN THE PILE.

     CAMERON:

Right, but in the Christian tradition this idea became more nuanced. Take an abusive father. That father’s sin will inevitably effect the next generation. His son, who was physically abused growing up, is far more likely to also be abusive one day. We are entwined with our family’s failures, addictions, and tragedies. Instead, the nuanced version allows us to realize the realities of our ancestors, but also recognizing it has no authority over us. It’s pretty freeing to understand destructive tendencies in our past, so we can protect ourselves from them sneaking into our present.

     THATCHER:

Amen to that preacher man! You’ve been pretty quiet Dad.

     CY:

Just listening.

     THATCHER:

Come on Dad, you gotta give us more than that! Did you and Mom ever talk about this when we were born?

CY LODGES THE AXE IN THE SPLITTING LOG AND TAKES OFF HIS WORK GLOVES.

CY:

I don’t know if I’m smart enough to really understand generational sin. But of course, we thought about how our families affected your future. I know you all never got a chance to know him, but your Mom’s Dad was really a tortured character. Such a funny guy. Witty, sharp, but severely depressed. Also, could turn mean when he was drunk. It was always as if he was trying to prove something.

     CAMERON:

Was he violent?

     CY:

No, it was more verbal abuse. Witty people are often the most observant, which meant he could really unload criticism that singled out precise insecurities. Mom always worried that she would become the parent he was.

     THATCHER:

That seems crazy in retrospect because she’s the paragon. Parent-agon some might say.

     CAMERON SCOFF-LAUGHS.

     CY:

It’s hard work Thatch. We don’t realize how deeply those thoughts get into our minds. But that history is part of why your Mother is so beautiful in my eyes. It shaped her and she came out stronger because of it. (PAUSE) Hand me another one Cam, I still have a few things to teach you two.

CAMERON PUTS ANOTHER LOG ON THE SPLITTING LOG. AS CY MAKES CONTACT WITH THE LOG THE LIGHTS ABRUPTLY GO DOWN.

———————————————————–

SCENE V

LIGHTS UP LEFT ON TESSA AND ADELAIDE.

ADELAIDE:

Tessa, thanks for coming with me today.

TESSA:

No, thank you. I’ve never liked going to the doctor, so that put my mind at ease about prenatal visits a little bit.

     ADELAIDE:

So (BEAT) are you and Cameron currently trying to–

     TESSA:

Yeah.

     ADELAIDE:

That’s so exciting!

     TESSA:

Yeah. (PAUSE) How long until you think you’ll head back to work?

     ADELAIDE:

I probably won’t work again until the next election cycle. Who knows where the political landscape will be at that time? It’s getting harder and harder to know what type of person the electorate prefers.

THERE IS A LONG AND AWKWARD PAUSE. TESSA APPEARS TO BE MULLING SOMETHING OVER IN HER MIND. ADELAIDE CHECKS HER PHONE.

Director’s Note: The following dialogue should escalate into a very obvious fracture in Adelaide and Tessa’s relationship. The “sequence” here is that one person’s line leads to the next and causes a crescendo of frustration due to miscommunication and lack of understanding. The actors should keep this end in mind as they work through this scene.

     TESSA:

Should we design our leaders?

     ADELAIDE:

What do you mean?

     TESSA:

I just think about all these politicians. I’m not saying the Judge is like this, but look at Twining, or Birch even. We want our leaders to be clever, relatable, wise, courageous, a Harvard graduate with military experience, a good-ole boy, Rhodes Scholar who comes home from Washington once a week to plow the fields, kiss Mama, and run a successful hedge fund. Or we want her to be able to hang with the boys, but still project femininity. Is Twining allowed to be afraid? Could Birch have failed algebra? We want leaders who are impressive, and, because of that, we get leaders who look nothing like the rest of us. What happens when the person we have created can no longer feel our brokenness or sorrow because they’re just too–

     TESSA’S VOICE TRAILS OFF.

     ADELAIDE:

Perfect? (PAUSE) Tessa, if this is about what I said about Birch, I’m sorry. I forgot that you and Cameron were big supporters.

     TESSA:

No Ade, it’s not that. (PAUSE) Don’t you think there is inherent goodness in imperfection? It can make us have more resilience, character, and introspection. You go on social media and see cheerful, shiny people, but depression rates are soaring. All the cosmetic work hasn’t given us a modicum of contentment.

     ADELAIDE:

(PAUSE) Um.

     TESSA:

(QUICKLY) Ade, do you think Cameron and I are backwards?

     ADELAIDE:

Of course not Tessa! Why do you ask?

     TESSA:

Doctor Robeson made it seem like parents who really care about their future child will use PGD. I mean, she didn’t say one ethical downside of PGD, as if we all are supposed to accept that technological advances are the absolute good. Ade, we both know there’s a chance that something goes wrong genetically. Of course I want my child to be healthy, but is that mutually exclusive with our personal convictions? Didn’t you feel that in there today?

     ADELAIDE:

I honestly didn’t get that sense from her. It seemed like she just wanted to provide you with all the options before you actually begin your pregnancy.

     TESSA:

Really? (ANGRIER) Tell me one downside she said it had. There are serious moral implications here!

     ADELAIDE:

But in her defense, should she have to give you the moral implications? She’s just a doctor after all, not a priest or ethicist.

TESSA:

Well there’s a whole other issue right there! “Do no harm” shouldn’t just apply when the harm is a physical one. The fact that you are creating dozens of embryos, just to destroy them is one thing, but what kind of message does it send to society, especially the disabled. Are we essentially looking people with Downs Syndrome in their eye and telling them: We would never have picked you to make it?

     ADELAIDE:

Just to play devil’s advocate though, imagine a world where we didn’t have to worry about genetic diseases. Where Thatch and Cameron wouldn’t have to keep getting yearly screenings or worry about getting Alzheimer’s. But I do agree with you.

     TESSA:

Okay, put aside the question of whether disposing of fertilized eggs is morally acceptable. Will there be anyone to determine when PGS is used in an unjustifiable manner? If this is a personal liberty question, why shouldn’t people be allowed to select only blue-eyed babies or only baby boys? I mean, think about what happened in China under the One Child policy. Boys were “preferred” which led to a recorded birth of 144 boys for every 100 girls. When people get choice, they overwhelmingly choose boys.

     ADELAIDE:

There could be a way to compromise and make everyone happy. We could easily make distinctions between sex-selection for convenience or family balancing. That could protect autonomy and personal freedoms without allowing choice to run rampant. Not to mention it gives families another option that doesn’t include terminating the pregnancy after prenatal diagnosis.

     TESSA:

I mean, you kind of sound like an advocate Ade.

     ADELAIDE:

No, I just choose to see both sides of this issue and weigh the pros and cons.

     TESSA:

Ade cut the political bull with me. We’re not on the campaign trail.

     ADELAIDE:

(SHOUTING) What if I didn’t mind it, Tessa?! Would you judge me for it? Those decisions are hard when you have fertility problems or worry about a genetic history like ours.

     TESSA:

We face those problems too, but we don’t flip our beliefs when we actually have to face a real problem.

     ADELAIDE:

I’m not sure you know what I believe.

     TESSA:

I’m not sure I do.

     ADELAIDE:

(PAUSE) Maybe it’s best if we don’t talk about it anymore. Thatcher and I are meeting up with some friends tonight, so I should probably get back to our house.

     TESSA:

Alright, y’all have a good night.

ADELAIDE EXITS STAGE RIGHT. TESSA IS ALONE ON STAGE AND BEGINS TO CRY. A BLUE LIGHT FILTER APPEARS OVER THE LIGHT. TESSA LETS DOWN HER HAIR FROM A PONYTAIL. SHE LOOKS AT THE TIE, PUTTING IT BETWEEN HER HANDS, TWISTING IT AND UNTWISTING IT, WHICH IS AN ALLUSION TO THE DOUBLE HELIX STRUCTURE OF DNA.

———————————————————–

Scene VI

RED, WHITE, AND BLUE LIGHTS RISE ON STAGE. OVER THE SPEAKERS ANOTHER RECORDING IS HEARD. THE RECORDING IS A CROWD CHEERING.

CONGRESSMAN BIRCH (VOICE OVER):

Thank you! Thank you! (Pause for cheers) Tonight you made your voice clear. Your votes tonight were voices for the voiceless. The out of luck farmer. The poor working mother. The unborn child. And I promise that I will echo your voice as loudly as possible through the sleepy halls of Congress because it is time for Washington to wake up!

RED WHITE AND BLUE LIGHTS CONTINUE ON CENTER STAGE, BUT A LIGHT RISES GENERALLY. CAMERON AND TESSA ARE ONSTAGE WITH AMERICAN FLAGS AND “BIRCH FOR SENATE” T-SHIRTS. THERE ARE RED, WHITE, AND BLUE BALLOONS SLOWLY FALLING AND THE CROWD CONTINUES TO CHEER.

CAMERON:

What a night! I mean, almost every county went for Birch!

TESSA: The future seems so bright! If anyone can single-handedly bring morality and compassion back to Congress, it’s him.

TESSA PICKS UP A BALLOON AND RUBS IT ON CAMERON’S HAIR, THEN HUGS HIM.

CAMERON:

I love seeing you so fired up! Maybe you should get into politics, hon.

TESSA:

Yeah and maybe I can hire Ade to tell me what to believe.

CAMERON GIVES TESSA A SIDE HUG AND WAVES AN AMERICAN FLAG. THE CROWD CHANTS “BIRCH” ON A RECORDING. TESSA AND CAMERON JOIN IN. THE LIGHTS GO DOWN AND THE RECORDING OF THE CROWD FADES TO SILENCE IN THE DARKNESS.

———————————————————–

SCENE VII

LIGHTS UP ON GWEN AND THATCHER. GWEN IS DRAGGING A CANOE ON STAGE AND BOTH HAVE PADDLES, LIFE VESTS, AND DRY BAGS.

THATCHER:

Can’t believe how high the water was today, Mom.

GWEN:

It’s all that rain they got up North a week ago. It finally reached us down river. Just throw your paddle in the boat.  Glad you were able to come out today, Thatch, I love it when you join me.

THATCHER:

Of course! I feel so out of shape. Honestly, I can barely keep up with you anymore.

GWEN PATS HIS SHOULDER LOVINGLY AND STARTS UNPACKING THE BOAT.

GWEN:

Not many can. (Pause) I’m just trying to get in my time with you before the baby gets all my attention.

THATCHER:

(Laughing) Alright, Grandma.

GWEN:

(Laughing) Hey now. Don’t throw that word around yet. I’ve still got two weeks of being Gwen before I become G-Mom or Granny or anything equally aging. I’ll let the baby decide what to call me.

THATCHER:

I hear subliminal messaging works well. Arrange the blocks in the nursery or something.

GWEN:

How else do you think I got you and Cameron to be so obedient? (PAUSE) Speaking of names, have you and Ade decided yet?

THATCHER:

We have actually. We’re still planning on keeping it a secret until the whole family is together, but we think we settled on the perfect name.

GWEN:

I’m sure it’s perfect. Maybe you could tell us at Thanksgiving dinner next week?

THATCHER:

Oh, I thought Cam and Tessa were going to her parents’ house? That’s what Cam told me.

GWEN:

He called me today and changed his plans. Apparently, Tessa’s parents decided to have Thanksgiving dinner on a cruise this year. I’m glad though because we’ve always done Thanksgiving at our house. It was odd that Cam was initially so adamant about going there in the first place. They’ve been scarce more generally the last few months.

THATCHER:

I think I might know why that is. A while back, Ade and Tessa sort of had a falling out. It was the day Tessa joined Ade at the OBGYN.

GWEN:

Really? That doesn’t sound like either of them to hold a grudge so long. What happened?

THATCHER:

Have you heard about the new procedure for genetic screening where a mother can see a complete genetic profile of an embryo before it is implanted? Apparently, the doctor mentioned it to Tessa and explained all the benefits. Tessa felt that the doctor had personally offended her and was suggesting that it would be cruel to a future child not to select an embryo that had the fewest genetic abnormalities. Then Tessa brought it up afterwards and started accusing Ade of lacking compassion for children with disabilities. Ade was pretty upset about it.

GWEN:

Hm. Tessa isn’t usually that opinionated. I guess it struck a nerve with her somehow. I obviously wouldn’t want to psychoanalyze her, but maybe some experience in her life left her especially sensitive to that topic.

THATCHER:

Realistically, in the grand scheme of opinions, our family has pretty similar ideas on reproductive issues, though. So why would Tessa take out her frustrations on Ade?

GWEN:

I’m not sure. Have you talked to Cameron about it?

THATCHER:

No, I didn’t see what good it would do. We would probably just end up taking our wives’ sides and digging in more. You know how Cam can be about political and social issues. He’s never been great at finding middle ground.

GWEN:

He’s got conviction, that’s for sure. It never comes from a bad place, though. I hope you know that.

THATCHER:

I just think sometimes he majors in the minors. What advantage do him and Tessa see in berating Ade about fertilization policy when she’s six months pregnant? Seems a little unimportant.

GWEN:

I’m sure Tessa didn’t mean to personally attack Ade, and Cameron is probably just supporting his wife. You’re doing the same right now in fact.

THATCHER:

Takes too many cues from Birch if you ask me.

GWEN:

Well hopefully now that they’re coming to Thanksgiving, it’ll help resolve the conflict a bit. I might talk to Tessa and get a sense of where she’s coming from. The last thing we would want is for Ade to feel alienated from the family in any way when the baby is born.

THATCHER:

Would you? I feel like that would go a long way. She really looks up to you, you know.

GWEN:

Of course, Thatch. (PAUSE) Now help me get this thing up on the racks.

GWEN AND THATCHER LIFT THE BOAT ABOVE THEIR HEAD AND EXIT STAGE RIGHT. THE LIGHT GOES DOWN.

———————————————————–

SCENE VIII

DIM SPOTLIGHTS UP STAGE RIGHT AND STAGE LEFT. UNDER THE STAGE LEFT SPOTLIGHT THATCHER AND ADELAIDE ARE SITTING IN TWO CAR SEATS, DRIVING. ADELAIDE IS DRIVING AND THATCHER IS LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW. UNDER THE STAGE RIGHT SPOTLIGHT CAMERON AND TESSA ARE ALSO SITTING IN TWO CAR SEATS, BUT CAMERON IS DRIVING AND HAS A STEERING WHEEL IN FRONT OF HIM. HERE THE SPOTLIGHT WILL BRIGHTEN WHEN THE AUDIENCE IS PRESENT WITH A COUPLE’S CONVERSATION. LIGHTS RISE STAGE LEFT.

     THATCHER:

Set it to take Fifty-Two. I bet traffic is bad downtown since the Rhinos’ game just let out. It’s probably faster to go around.

ADELAIDE HITS A SERIES OF BUTTONS ON A TABLET.

CAR VOICE:

(RECORDED) Beginning trip to 823 North Highland Street, Watson, North Carolina. Please stay alert for any manual override requirements. Enjoy your ride!

ADELAIDE RECLINES HER CHAIR AND PUTS HER HANDS ON HER BELLY, SPEAKING AS IF IMPERSONATING THE BABY.

ADELAIDE:

(BABY VOICE) Sooooo hungry Dad. Feed me!

     THATCHER PLACES HIS HAND ON ADELAIDE’S STOMACH.

THATCHER:

Hang in there little man! In twenty minutes you’ll have more turkey than you know what to do with.

     ADELAIDE:

(BABY VOICE) Dad! Babies can’t eat complex proteins until ten months old.

     THATCHER:

You’re going to be a great Mother. Parent of the year.

SPOTLIGHT DIMS ON STAGE LEFT AND RISES ON STAGE RIGHT. CAMERON IS TRYING TO START THE CAR, BUT THE SOUND OF THE ENGINE NOT TURNING OVER PLAYS OVER THE SPEAKERS.

TESSA:

Is it the battery again?

     CAMERON:

I hope it’s just the battery. (MUTTERING) Piece of junk.

     TESSA:

Awww. It’s got character though.

Director’s Notes: The car is another example of the character’s debate over perfection and imperfection. The difference in cars also demonstrates that Thatcher and Adelaide are more financially well off than Cameron and Tessa, which the directors can highlight throughout the play at his or her discretion.

     CAMERON:

Yeah and every extra cent I’ve earned since high school.

CAMERON TRIES AGAIN AND THE SOUND OF A CAR ENGINE TURNING OVER IS HEARD.

     TESSA:

See, she always pulls through. Just wants to know you still care about her.

THE LIGHT DIMS ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE STAGE. THE TWO COUPLES RIDE IN SILENCE FOR FIVE SECONDS. THE SPOTLIGHTS RISE ON BOTH SIDES SIMULTANEOUSLY

TESSA & THATCHER:

(SIMULTANEOUSLY) Radio?

     CAMERON & ADELAIDE:

(SIMULTANEOUSLY) Sure.

THE LIGHT DIMS ON BOTH SIDES AND A RADIO NEWS REPORTER’S VOICE COMES OVER THE SPEAKERS.

     REPORTER:

–back to the show. Again, I’m talking to Jason Greene from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Edwin Lawson, the author of a recent book addressing the ethical implications of genetic testing, including Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis. I wanted to ask you both about the new House bill that would, among other things, place a moratorium on the use of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis or PGD for five years. Jason, let me go to you first. Why was this bill introduced and why is it so controversial for many people?

     JASON GREENE:

Well it’s not surprising that the House is taking up this issue right now. They know the vote will be close in the Senate, but that the Senate will have a powerful new voice in newly elected Senator Raymond Birch from North Carolina, who made restricting reproductive liberties a centerpiece of his campaign. The house bill, which places an all-out restriction on PGD for five years, as you mentioned, is controversial because it strips all agency from people to access information about their future child. This lack of information will greatly impact the health of any future child and place a massive burden on the parents.

     SPOTLIGHT BRIGHTENS ON STAGE LEFT.

     ADELAIDE:

Oh, wow. This is pretty timely. That’s exactly what I was trying to convey to Tessa. So many voters I talked to on the campaign trail told me exactly what that person is talking about. They sympathize with the ethical issues behind it, but told me deeply personal stories about hard decisions they had to make to protect their future child.

     SPOTLIGHT DIMS ON STAGE LEFT.

     REPORTER:

Edwin, you’ve written extensively about the downsides, particularly the ethical downsides of this PGD, especially new advances that essentially show parents everything about what a child will be like based solely on an eight-celled embryo.

EDWIN LAWSON:

(RECORDED) Well, first I would be careful about turning this into a partisan issue. There is some talk that a few liberal Senators are considering voting for the moratorium as well. We hear a lot about this restricting choice, but some on the left actually argue that parents may make determinations based on sexual orientation or gender. And that really demonstrates the fear with this procedure: that certain socially “undesirable” genetic traits will be selected out of existence.

     SPOTLIGHT RISES STAGE RIGHT.

     TESSA:

Did you hear that Cam? That’s exactly what I wanted Ade to understand. I don’t hate women who make this choice. I absolutely sympathize with their desire to have a healthy baby. The parents will have all the choice in how their child turns out, but the child doesn’t get any. They will be subject to what their parents want them to be like without any agency to decide otherwise.

     CAMERON:

Plus, only the parents who can afford the procedure will be able to select the embryo that will turn out the most intelligent or physically appealing. That’ll pretty much guarantee the most well off are able to keep having more and more successful kids, while poorer folks are unable to compete.

     TESSA:

It’s messed up that we even have to think about reproduction as a selection process.

     THE LIGHT FADES STAGE RIGHT.

     REPORTER:

What do we make of these liberal dissenters then, Edwin? Will that derail the chances that a bill is finally sent to the President?

EDWIN LAWSON:

Not necessarily. What it does mean is that someone will have to be realistic and compromise. The most likely outcome is that there will be a shorter moratorium; say eighteen months, to allow hospitals to scale down their finish up scheduled PGD appointments. In the meantime, Congress will have to decide which characteristics can be a basis for embryonic selection. Or they will have to give the Department of Health and Human Services a mandate to make these determinations.

     JASON GREENE:

And then any of these decisions will be immediately challenged in court, likely under Roe v. Wade and its progeny. But conceivably, under the framework Edwin has suggested, this choice could be limited to terminal genetic diseases to assuage concerns over discriminator selection. That seems pretty restricting and hard to implement in my opinion.

     THE LIGHT RISES STAGE LEFT.

     ADELAIDE:

I wonder if they really think it’s realistic to limit the category of (AIR QUOTES) “acceptable diseases.” Technically Alzheimer’s is terminal, but it doesn’t develop until a long way down the road.

     THATCHER:

Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be in charge of drawing the cut offline.

     ADELAIDE:

I know some of the people on the campaign trail would be irate if they heard any amount of selection was allowed.

     LIGHTS DIM ON STAGE LEFT, RISE ON STAGE RIGHT.

TESSA:

But that’s such a slippery slope to let someone define characteristics for discrimination.

     CAMERON:

I know, sweetie. Do you think you’re going to bring this up with Ade again?

     TESSA:

I’m not sure. Maybe it would be good to clear the air. I want Ade to know I care about her and the baby, but I really believe she’s wrong here.

     CAMERON:

Well just feel it out, and maybe talk to Mom about it. Have you ever asked her about Averett?

     TESSA:

No.

     CAMERON:

She’s probably got some personal insights into all this.

     LIGHTS DIM RIGHT AND RISE ON STAGE LEFT

     ADELAIDE:

Sometimes I wish I cared about these social issues less.

     THATCHER:

Maybe it’s just that the policy has become personal here. It’s easy to design strategies that affect hypothetical people. Maybe my Mom could give you some good perspective. She mentioned she would love to talk about it.

     LIGHTS RISE ON THE RIGHT AND STAY UP ON THE LEFT.

     ADELAIDE & TESSA:

(SIMULTANEOUSLY) Yeah, I’ll ask her.

     LIGHTS GO ALL THE WAY DOWN.

———————————————————–

Scene IX

LIGHTS UP GENERAL ON THE ENTIRE FAMILY (CY, GWEN, CAMERON, TESSA, ADELAIDE, AND THATCHER). THEY ARE SITTING AROUND A TABLE THAT IS DECORATED FOR THANKSGIVING. EVERYONE IS SILENT EXCEPT FOR FORKS AND KNIVES SCRAPING PLATES AS PEOPLE EAT. AFTER ABOUT THIRTY SECONDS OF SILENCE CY FINALLY SPEAKS.

     CY:

Sure is good cranberry sauce. I love the chef’s artistic decision to present it as a cylindrical shape with artisanal ridges.

THATCHER GIVES A PITY SCOFF AND THE OTHERS SMILE POLITELY. GWEN IS VISIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE, BUT CY IS OBLIVIOUS.

CY:

Am I missing something? No one has talked this entire evening. Something is hanging in the air that I’m not in on, but I feel like everyone else is. What’s this big idea that’s got everyone on edge?

     THERE IS ANOTHER SILENCE.

     THATCHER:

Don’t worry about it Dad, it’s not a big deal.

     TESSA:

Fertility.

     ADELAIDE:

(PASSIVE AGGRESSIVELY) More like futility.

     TESSA:

Oh, come on.

SILENCE ENSUES. CAMERON STARTS GATHERING UP THE DISHES.

     CAMERON:

I think I’m going to get started on these.

     THATCHER:

I’ll join you. Dad?

     CY:

Yeah, I suppose I will too.

THE THREE MEN PICK UP THE DISHES AND EXIT STAGE RIGHT, LEAVING ADELAIDE, GWEN, AND TESSA SITTING AT THE TABLE. TESSA STANDS UP AND STARTS BRUSHING CRUMBS OFF THE TABLE AND ADELAIDE SHUFFLES UNCOMFORTABLE IN HER CHAIR, VERY PREGNANT.

GWEN:

Tessa. Ade. Can we talk?

     TESSA SITS BACK DOWN AT THE TABLE.

     GWEN:

I know I’m not either of y’alls biological mother, but I never had a girl, so I love you both as if I was. I also can’t resolve this conflict; I don’t know if conflicts are meant to have natural resolutions, but I hope I can put it into perspective. (PAUSE) I’m sure Cameron and Thatcher told you at some point, but I lost a child to a genetic disorder. His name was Averett.

THERE IS A MOMENT OF SILENCE WHERE THE NAME HOVERS IN THE AIR FOR FIVE SECONDS.

     GWEN:

Averett had a disease called Edwards syndrome, and we lost him just before his second birthday. So, when this national conversation about genetic screenings started, I was conflicted.

     TESSA:

I bet those were two hard, but incredible years.

     GWEN:

Absolutely. I would have given anything for two more. I remember seeing his little hands, what some would call deformed because his fingers overlapped, and putting them against my cheek. I knew our time was finite, but my love for him was infinite. Love is the only infinite resource. It can’t be reallocated. It just multiplies. I loved Thatcher and Cameron deeply before I saw their faces, but that didn’t diminish the pain I felt in losing Averett. I felt like I had no place to put my love towards Averett when he didn’t make it, which let it turn into fear and anger.

     ADELAIDE:

Would you have gotten PGD in retrospect then?

     GWEN:

Ade, I think it would probably be wise if I kept that answer to myself. My goal isn’t to pick a side. I do wish I could have been a fly on the wall for your argument, strange as that sounds. I’ve probably thought both of what you believe. What I’ve ultimately settled on is that Averett and my pregnancy with Averett had some meaning. I remember cringing when people would wrap me in trite offerings of “everything happens for a reason.” Surely some things are random. There was a one-in-four chance that the alleles of my genes and Cy’s aligned to have a child with Edward’s. It finally happened on our third child. It scared and angered me so much that we stopped trying to have another. Sure, genetic screening existed back then, but once fear buries itself in your mind, it opens the floodgates to other fears. PGD can’t protect a child from the other evils that might take them from me throughout their whole life.

     ADELAIDE:

Thatch has mentioned having the same fears about our child.

     GWEN:

Sorry, he probably got that from me.

     GWEN PLACES HER HAND ON ADELAIDE’S SHOULDER.

     GWEN:

I don’t really have an answer for you two. These ethical beliefs come from a deep place, much deeper than our genetics, I’d even say. I just hope that you will be able to argue well with one another. Argue fiercely but argue out of love.

     ADELAIDE:

Gwen, I–, I–

ADELAIDE GRIMACES, CLENCHES HER TEETH, AND DOUBLES OVER IN PAIN.

     TESSA:

Ade, are you alright?

     ADELAIDE:

(ASTONISHED) I think I just had a contraction.

     THATCHER RUNS IN.

     THATCHER:

(YELLING) Contraction?! Let’s go. We gotta get to the hospital.

     GWEN:

Relax Thatch. We’ve still got time. Ade finish your pie.

     LIGHTS DOWN GENERAL.

———————————————————–

Scene X

SPOTLIGHT UP CENTER STAGE. ADE IS IN A HOSPITAL BED HOLDING A BABY. THATCHER IS ASLEEP IN A CHAIR JUST BEYOND THE SPOTLIGHT.

     TESSA:

He’s beautiful Ade. A perfect little boy.

     ADELAIDE:

Thanks Tessa. (PAUSE) Do you want to hold him?

     TESSA:

Absolutely!

     ADELAIDE HANDS TESSA THE SLEEPING BABY.

     TESSA:

Look at that! He’s got so much hair! (SURPRISED) And the double crown!

     ADELAIDE:

(SLYLY) Yeah that feature cost us extra.

     TESSA LOOKS AT ADELAIDE WITH A CONFUSED EXPRESSION.

     ADELAIDE:

(LAUGHING) I’m kidding. (PAUSE & MORE SERIOUSLY) Would you want to know if we did do the PGD selection? I’d tell you.

     TESSA IS SMILING AND LOOKING AT THE BABY.

     TESSA:

I don’t think I do. It wouldn’t change the fact that this little boy is in the world and going to be loved deeply. At this moment, it doesn’t seem to matter at all. We’ll finish that discussion another day. (BEAT) Want to know a secret?

     ADELAIDE:

(SKEPTICAL) Yes…

     TESSA:

This little guy is going to have a cousin.

     ADELAIDE:

Tessa, congratulations! You’ll get to watch all our parenting mistakes and do it better six months later.

     TESSA:

Thank you, Ade. We’ll wait and share it with the rest of the family in a week or two. This is your moment now. (TO THE BABY) Your moment.

     ADELAIDE:

You should tell Gwen. Put her theory about love being an infinite resource to the test. (BEAT) I guess I should trade you a secret as well.

     TESSA:

Alright?

     ADELAIDE:

Do you want to know his name?

     TESSA:

Oh, no, you can wait until Gwen and Cy get here.

     ADELAIDE:

No, really. I want you to know.

     TESSA:

(LAUGHING) Okay, good because Cam and I have been speculating non-stop. (TO THE BABY) Who do I have here?

     ADELAIDE:

This is Averett.

TESSA SMILES SOFTLY AND HOLDS BACK TEARS. SHE SMILES AT ADELAIDE AND TWISTS SLOWLY, ROCKING THE BABY.

     TESSA:

Hi Averett, welcome to the family.

     LIGHTS DOWN. CURTAIN DOWN.

THE END.

(Image attribution: Creative Commons License per Hein Boekhout)

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