Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: Fine and Funny ‘The Surrogate’ at Centenary Stage Company


The Centenary Stage Company is presenting the world premiere of a fascinating, touching, and often funny, look at modern family life in The Surrogate by Patricia Cotter. The play was a finalist in the prestigious 2016 O’Neil National Playwrights Conference and won the 2016 Susan Glaspell Award (CSC’s Women Playwrights series).

Ms. Cotter, who has an extensive resume in comedy from performing to writing, captures beautifully the challenge a multi-generational family face in the complex world of modern motherhood.

In this case, a young California couple, Sara (Diana Cherkas) and Billy (Clark Scott Carmichael) have the perfect baby, Tallulah (never seen, only heard via a baby monitor). Per the baby’s doctor, she is in the ninety-eighth percentile (ok, near perfect). We find the couple in the opening scene “entertaining” two female friends: Margaret (Katrina Ferguson) and Jen (Susan Barrett), with a computer slide show of Tallulah’s “greatest and brightest” moments. The two guests are enduring this “entertainment” with considerate words such as wonderful, extraordinary, remarkable at that age, even a few lesser appreciated comments, such as nice and good. Margaret is a writer with severe writer’s block and Jen is a divorced mother of young adults who live together. When they question the need for Tallulah’s perfection, Sara concedes that she just wants her children “to be happy.” The older, wiser Jen has possibly the best line of the play, at least for the 45 plus group. She replies “I don’t care about happy anymore. I just want my kids to have jobs.”

surrogate22Sara and Billy have two very special announcements for Margaret and Jen….in the event of Sara and Billy’s unlikely demise--they are bestowing the great honor of allowing them to be the guardians of their precious Tallulah and any future addition. Margaret has a great one word response to the honor ”Wow.” Jen is equally fast to reply “Yeah. Wow.” Clearly, the two lovers have no plans or desires to share their lives with children, anyone’s children regardless the level of perfection. But, how can they say no?

surrogate33The second announcement also has a very large “wow” factor…Sara and Billy are expecting a baby boy next month…next month? next month! Sara shows no sign of impending motherhood? Now the big reveal of the play’s title…Sara and Billy are paying thousands for a young lady in San Diego, Crystal (Caitlin Duffy), to carry the baby…a surrogate. The plot thickens as Sara’s mother (Catherine Rust) skypes from her home in New Zealand that she is coming to visit, first to be there for the birth of her grandchild, second, for ankle replacement surgery. Naturally, she is unaware that they are using a surrogate, and naturally she will not be pleased with the arrangement, an understatement?

surrogate3The way Patricia Cotter works out the complex plot is a delight that you will find both touching, warm and amusing. Don’t be misled, this a fine play, maybe a bit short in the laugh department, but good thought provoking theatre. We give the play four out of five stars.

The director of The Surrogate is Shelley Delaney, Head of Performance at Ohio University who received her acting degree at Rutgers. She has assembled a wonderful, first class cast of professional actors.

Playing Billy is the excellent and versatile Clark Scott Carmichael. Clark’s television credits include two Emmy winners, House of Cards and The Boardwalk Empire. He just demonstrated his versatility this month with back-to-back productions here in North Jersey. One week ago, he concluded a run at the Bickford in Ravenscroft a murder mystery set in an English manor house. He was the only man in a cast of seven (Read our review). Coincidently, that is exactly his situation in The Surrogate.

Playing Billy’s wife is Diana Cherkas. Diana is a fine actress who first impressed us in a solo performance several seasons ago in the CSC’s haunting, tale of a ‘working girl’ who is fated to meet Jack the Ripper-- The Unfortunates.

Jen is played nicely by Susan Barrett (Prisoner of Third Avenue at CSC). She easily moves from brash to sensitive and vulnerable as the story progresses.

The CSC’s Program Director, Catherine Rust, is spot-on as Sara’s mother Rita. She makes all the right turns (what? See the play).

The youngest member of the cast, no not Tallulah, is Caitlin Duffy as the surrogate Crystal. She perfectly carries off the look and movements of a soon to deliver young woman.

Then there is Katrina Ferguson, an actress worthy of any stage, she has fun in an unusual role for her…situation comedy, or more correctly, comedy-drama.

Deserving of a large shout out is Tom Golebiewski and crew for the impressive revolving set (manually turned!). Add to the list: Danielle Constance as the stage manager; Marianne Murray assistant director; Ed Matthews lighting; John Salutz sound design; Asleigh Poteat costume design; Tonianne Difilippo scenic artist; and Jeff Chase technical director.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  Sunday February 19, 2017

The Surrogate will play through March 5 at the Lackland Performing Arts Center (LPAC).

The Surrogate performances are Thursdays, February 23 and March 2 at 7:30pm; Fridays, February 24 and March 3 at 8pm; Saturdays, February 25 and March 4 at 8pm; Sundays, February 26 and March 5 at 2pm and Wednesdays, February 22 and March 1 at 2pm.   Buffet Matinees will be available during the run of this production, on Wednesdays (Feb 22 and Mar. 1) for groups of 25 or more.    All performances are located in the Sitnik Theater of the Lackland Center.

Tickets for The Surrogate range from $17.50 to $27.50 with discounts for students and children under 12.  Buffet Matinees are $42.50/person and advance reservations are required.  A special Centenary alumni discount of $10.00 off adult ticket price is available for  Friday evening performances.  Thursdays are  “Family Night” at CSC , with a special “rush”  ticket price of  buy one/get one free on the regular $25 ticket,  when tickets are purchased in person at the CSC box office, as early as, two hours prior to performance time.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit or call the CSC box office at (908) 979 – 0900. The box office is open Monday through Friday from 1 – 5pm and 2 hours prior to every performance.  The CSC box office is located in the Lackland Center; 715 Grand Ave. Hackettstown, NJ.  Centenary Stage Company can also be found on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


1 – (Left to Right) Susan Barrett, Caitlin Duffy, Katrina Ferguson, Top: Diana Cherkas, Clark Carmichael (photo credit:  Robert Eberle)

2 – (Left to Right) Katrina Ferguson, Diana Cherkas, Susan Barrett  (photo credit:  Robert Eberle)

3.  – (Left to Right) Diana Cherkas, Caitlin Duffy, Susan Barrett, Clark Carmichael (photo credit:  Robert Eberle)

4. – (Left to Right) Diana Cherkas, Catherine Rust (photo credit:  Robert Eberle)

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