To have a child or not to have a child? New Review critic Monique Grbec on Eggsistentialism
At 35 years old, Joanne Ryan knows she’s biologically running out of time to have a child. She just doesn’t know whether or not she wants one. In the year that Ireland’s abortion referendum returns a landslide majority to legalise abortion, Joanne Ryan makes her way to Melbourne Fringe Hub: Arts House – studio 2, to bring us her award-winning Eggsistentialism, a story about choice.
The toxicity of her birthday morning hangover is a brief introduction to a light-hearted and comical love story. Directed by Veronica Coburn the stage is set with a comfortable couch and a large background screen alive with a series of childlike and fast-paced animations that are both delightful and informative: holy moly, Ireland did not legalise contraception until 1980… did not criminalise rape until 1981, and marital rape until 1990.
Not suprisingly, in the year 2018 Irish fathers are still baby sitting their children and accepting a whopping 7 per cent of household responsibilities. Removing the shackles of religious dogma is a slow moving process – I can only guess this is where the penchant for jokes comes from.
To have a child or not to have a child? Ryan’s new gospel, Google, offers newspaper articles, research documents and a variety of ‘will I make a good Mum’ quizzes that are fun and funny. But it does feel a little smoke-and-mirrors shallow against the broad stokes she uses to bemoan her relationship histories. Histories where all of her exes wanted marriage and kids while she was only interested in fun… and later, following the death of her selfish, alcoholic father, the stream of selfish, alcoholic men.
By the time Ryan is ready to return to the fertility clinic to find out how many eggs her 35 year old self has, it seems that the man of her current boozy relationship is agreeable to joining her at the clinic to learn about his sperm numbers. Their numbers come back and yay, they’re both normal! (Eye roll.)
It’s from this moment that I suspect that the show is a rosey romantic comedy, a letter to the baby they are on their way to having. It’s a work that gives Ryan the excuse to talk about the tough stuff, making for a safe bridge for them to walk across together to the other side, where they’ll have the cutest little video of their gorgeous little toddler; a toddler who will, of course, be super delighted to know how much consideration went into them being born.
For that romantic comedy afterglow, I am willing to suspend my cynicism. It seemed to me that Ireland’s history and all of the super fun facts marking its sexual revolution make it a convenient, even superficial antagonist for this story. I’ve had my share of relationship disappointments and heartaches and it was probably refreshing not to have to hear hers.
The New Review program is a collaboration between Witness and Footscray Community Arts Centre West Writers that nurtures and mentors new critical voices. It is part of Malthouse Theatre’s Living Now resident writers program, funded through the MPA Collaborations program, and has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.
Eggsistentialism, created and performed by Joanne Ryan and directed by Veronica Coburn. Fringe Hub Studio 2, Melbourne Fringe Festival until September 29. Bookings