It’s been a long time since I’ve left a theater angry. It’s been an even longer time since I found myself still fuming days later as I write a review.
To say Hannah Manikowski’s world premiere play “Compensation,” currently playing at Island City Stage, is a stinging gut punch to this white, middle-aged gay man is an understatement — and that’s exactly the reaction she wanted.
Elliott (Israel Viñas) and Gabriel (Stephen Kaiser) are an affluent gay couple in their mid-30s who have toyed with the idea of starting a family. Elliott’s sister will supply the egg and presumably one of the men will be a sperm donor. All they need is a surrogate to carry their baby to term.
Unbeknownst to Gabriel, Elliott has engaged a promising candidate online. Tara (Gaby Tortoledo) is an attractive 24-year-old college student who becomes his BFF in almost no time. Elliott is giddy, while Gabriel is cautious as subtle warning signs emerge that this perfect arrangement may be fraught with complications.
This may be somewhat of a spoiler, but the girl has some serious emotional issues and, weeks into the pregnancy, begins to have misgivings about the whole thing after learning there might be complications that would preclude her from having a child of her own. Never mind that she led Elliott and Gabriel to believe she held no such desires.
Despite the legal contract and sizable payment she received, let alone the couple’s dashed dreams, this is an issue of a woman’s control of her own body for Tara — and Manikowski, who is also 24 and a lesbian who has been considering her own plans for a future family.
Like a presumed majority of Island City’s gay male audience, I’m biased in favor of the men, just as Manikowski plainly writes from a female perspective. But, to be clear, “Compensation” is NOT an attack on gay men per se, but a surprising catalyst for deep discussion about gender, power and ethics. Many a straight couple have found themselves in similar situations.
The cast, which is self-quarantining between performances and tested for COVID twice weekly, displays a cohesive understanding of the complicated characters and nuanced, constantly evolving relationships. Director Roy Abbott makes the most of Manikowski’s smart dialogue with a fairly fast-paced staging of the 90-minute, one-act play.
In pre-pandemic times, a playwright often collaborates onsite in the development of the premiere production. Zoom seems to have provided an adequate substitute for Manikowski, a Carnegie-Mellon directing graduate. A professionally produced video of the production will be available for streaming online through Feb. 28.
Island City Stage presents the world premiere of Hannah Manikowski’s “Compensation,” through Feb. 20 at Wilton Theater Factory, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 plus a $3 online processing fee at IslandCityStage.org. Note: Masks are required throughout the performance and social-distancing measures are in place at the theater.