nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
August 12, 2011
Is being adopted no big deal? Is it just a footnote in one’s life? Or is it a life of questions with permanent blank spaces for answers? In his poignant autobiographical show, Brian Stanton struggles with these questions. Adopted at birth and raised in a stable middle class home, being adopted was, he believed, no big deal. But when his adoptive mother shows him his original birth certificate he’s thrown into a crisis of identity. He sees his birth mother’s name on the certificate, and in the space where his name should be is the word “Blank.”
From this point, Brian feels that his sense of self has been torn in two. Who is Blank? Is he some nameless version of himself wandering an alternate universe? Or is Brian actually Blank? But even more difficult questions arise when his birth mother reveals to him by letter that he was conceived while she was being gang-raped at the age of sixteen. Knowing this awful truth leads him to ask more questions. He risks solipsism, but avoids it by asking questions of universal importance. And the answers he finds (though some will disagree with them) are fascinating.
As a solo piece, Blank mostly succeeds. When Stanton plays himself, he is himself. There is no artifice, only a vulnerable, likeable man who is desperately trying to understand his history and sustain a sense of wholeness. We sympathize with him, we listen to him, and we root for him. Director McKerrin Kelly does a fine job ensuring that the Brian offstage remains the Brian onstage.
Where the show occasionally falls short is when he portrays various important people in his life. Too often (such as when he is playing his adoptive mother and several other characters) these people seem more like caricatures. They are usually arch and blasé, as if they’re introduced only for the laughs. The laughs are fine, but these portrayals should also somehow edify our understanding of Brian, such as when he plays his adoptive father and his grandparents. They are presented as full-blooded persons, and we see Brian in a new light and understand him more.
Stanton does not in any way present adoption as a tragedy. What he does is give us a glimpse of the unique journey the adopted person takes to understand and appreciate their personal history. A play that betters our understanding of that journey is an important one. For fifteen years I have lived and loved someone who was adopted. And I’m grateful to Mr. Stanton for helping me appreciate my partner’s journey even more.