Dr. David Cowan
Science on stage is not easily done but it does offer so many dramatic opportunities…. if done right. Paper Doll has done it right. This absorbing new play deals with the troubling ethics of cloning, but doesn’t get the audience lost in the science. Instead the audience is invited to peer into the messiness of the human condition as a counterpoint to the possibilities of science.
Set in a near future, Paper Doll is a play about love, fulfilment, the human condition. Married couple Jen and Rog are celebrating their tenth anniversary. As the evening progresses they play games, drawing each other into a series of dangerous engagements but they disengage just before any real violence is done. These are two people who have known love, but after ten years something is missing, something is not working. Their individual and common troubles keep pulling each towards the other and then they push back, in the kind of dance that we see in relationships of love.
Yet all the time, Rog wants to give Jen a gift. Jen is insecure, vulnerable, and very sensitive about her mother, and can’t have a baby. Jen is at turns naive and frustrated. And so the dance goes on. The cloned baby Rog has arranged becomes the jarring turn in this dance. What Rog sees as an act of love sends Jen into retreat. He tries to convince her about the nature of the gift. Does he succeed? Go and see Paper Doll, you’ll want to find out.
Cloning a baby may seem far-fetched, but here in the city where Dolly the Sheep was cloned, playwright Susan Eve Haar gives us a thought-provoking insight into the nature of human love and the possibilities of science. She raises questions that demonstrate how essential it is for society to engage in the philosophical issues related to cloning. Just like Hume’s Is/Ought, because we can do these scientific processes does not mean we should, nor should we be passive in the journey we are taking into this new brave world.
We need to have a dialogue, and people need to be both educated and sensitized towards the issue. Paper Doll takes us a step in that direction. In the troubled relationship between Jen and Rog we also witness the dissonance between the science of cloning and what it means to have love in creation.
Diana Ruppe is enigmatic as Jen, playing her with tenderness and vulnerable bravado, as she switches between being temptress and tamed. Chris Stack playing Rog is a physical force, and in contrasting with his slender lover he manages to use this physical presence through his voice and emotions rather than the physical. So often in theatre we see actors throwing things about and hitting things to show they are emotional. We don’t get that here.
Abigail Zealey Bess directs with a deep sense of the meaning here, deftly choreographing the drama through its ups and down, the pushing and pulling, keeping the audience engrossed in a play at turns tragic and comic.
Not performed here in Edinburgh, this play has a second act to follow, which is wonderful to hear. Those of us who passed by the performing stages on the Royal Mile got a tantalizing look at that second act in the Paper Doll dance performed to promote the show. Who knows, we may get to see the whole play brought to the Fringe next year - I truly hope so!