Debra Barsha composed the music for Radiant Baby, one of the best musicals you've probably never heard of. For whatever reasons, the show was not a critical success in its 2003 world premiere production at The Public Theater, despite an impressive pedigree: music by Barsha, lyrics by Ira Gasman, directed by George C. Wolfe, with a cast headed by Daniel Reichard in the central role of Keith Haring. But if you ever get a chance to see it, do not hesitate. (Trust me.)
These days, Barsha is keeping busy as associate conductor of Jersey Boys on Broadway. But, happily, she's still writing as well. Her latest project is a revised version of her one-woman show A Womb With a View, all about her attempts to have a child with her wife, Kim, by means of insemination. The show will be presented as part of the 2012 edition of the All For One Theater Festival, which runs September 14-30 at the Cherry Lane Theater. Here's the 411 on that...
BROADWAYSTARS: Debra, I've never had the opportunity to tell you directly how much I loved Radiant Baby, so please let me do so now.
DEBRA BARSHA: Oh, gosh, thank you so much. That piece was the passion of my life. It took me 11 years to get it onstage.
STARS: Has it been seen elsewhere since the production at The Public?
DEBRA: It was done in Cincinnati, at a theater that doesn't exist anymore. It was also done at Carnegie-Mellon, and here in New York at CAP21. They did a wonderful rendition of it.
STARS: Tell me about A Womb With a View and The All For One Theater Festival.
DEBRA: It's really something to have a solo show accepted by a festival like this, by people who know what solo performance is all about. I developed A Womb With a View at CAP21 about four years ago, and I presented it there as an Equity showcase. Then I did it again for a couple of nights at the Passage Theater in Trenton, and then I rewrote it a little bit and submitted it to the festival.
STARS: Your bio tells me that you have another show, called Go To Your Womb.
DEBRA: That show is about my mother's relationship with me, and A Womb With a View is about me trying to become a mother. It probably will turn into a trilogy, sort of in the Torch Song Trilogy tradition. I'm having hot flashes now, so I'm thinking of calling the third piece No More Womb.
STARS: Is all of this material pretty much autobiographical?
DEBRA: Well, yes...but there's theatrical license, as always.
STARS: Were you successful? Do you now have a child?
DEBRA: You'll have to come to the show to find out! There's a surprise ending that I think is very fulfilling; it's really a story about the fertility industry, and about me trying to have a baby with my wife. It's also about the fact that lesbians who want to have children face different challenges than heterosexual women do, or gay men. I tried to explore that with a lot of humor.
STARS: Did you always conceive of the piece as a one-woman show?
DEBRA: I actually conceived it as a book, and I started writing it as a book. What happened was, Radiant Baby was being done at CAP21, and the director, Frank Ventura, said he wanted to work with me on something else. I told him, "Right now, I'm writing a really funny book on how two lesbians go about having a child and shopping for sperm online." He said, "You can buy sperm online??!!" I said, "Yes!"
STARS: I wasn't aware of that...
DEBRA: It's nuts. Just today, I got an email with the subject line, "Sperm Sale! 10-20 Percent Off." Anyway, I gave Frank the book I was working on, and he said, "I want to produce it as a show here at CAP21." He got a partial grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he worked on it with me. Frank is the person mainly responsible for turning it from a book into a show. I'm very grateful for that.
STARS: The whole lineup of the AFO Festival sounds great.
DEBRA: Yes. If there's a way for me to see every show in the festival, I want to try to do that. I'm so happy to be included, and should say I don't think our show is only for lesbian couples who are trying to conceive. I hope it's for everybody.
STARS: Well, I've already learned some things from this interview, like the bit about sperm being sold online. I wonder if it will eventually be available through those discount services, like Groupon or Living Social?
DEBRA: Maybe. They can call it a white sale!
[For more information about A Womb With a View and the All For One Theater Festival, go to www.afofest.org]
Published on Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org