Platonic parenting for the win?

11 July 2023

Are we asking ourselves the right questions before we step on the parental rollercoaster? In The Hypotheticals playwrights Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Sarah Reuben dive into one of life’s biggest decisions. Nina Levy finds out more.

“What if the best person you could have a baby with is not a romantic partner?”

That, says local playwright Jeffrey Jay Fowler, is one the questions that underpins The Hypotheticals, a play about potential parenthood.

Written and performed by Fowler and Darwin-based theatre maker Sarah Reuben, The Hypotheticals tells the story of best friends – a straight woman who’s single and a partnered gay man, both in their 30s – who are considering whether to have a baby together. Presented by West Australian theatre company The Last Great Hunt, The Hypotheticals premiered in Darwin in 2021, and will open in Perth at the end of July.

The very first version of the script was us going through ‘Cosmo’ style quizzes about whether you’re ready to have a baby or not.

In keeping with its name The Hypotheticals is a work of fiction, but there are some similarities with the real life of its creators. Fowler and Reuben are friends, he’s gay, she’s not. At the time of starting the project (2019) they were in their mid-30s, Reuben a single woman and Fowler partnered. The question of whether or not to have children was on their minds.

“The very first version of the script was us literally going through a series of Cosmo style quizzes about whether you’re ready to have a baby or not, and interviewing each other,” says Fowler. “As part of the project we went through these hypotheticals, like what would it be if we had a kid together? What would we be like as co-parents?”

“It felt like we were having real conversations about it,” says Reuben. “Like if Jeff and Sarah really were to have a kid together, how would we do it? Where would we live? How would we conceive the child? How would we pay for it? How would we bring it up? I’m Jewish and Jeff is atheist – how do you bring faith into a child’s life? How do you do it when the two parents aren’t romantically linked? Is that actually easier?”

Reuben says one question felt particularly provocative for her as she considered her options for parenthood as a single person. “If you’re not choosing a [co-parent] based on your sexual love for them, if it’s a platonic rather than romantic relationship, what are the things that you look for? It was a real conversation that I was having in my brain and with people around me.”

‘What would we be like as co-parents?’Jeffery Jay Fowler and Sarah Reuben performing in ‘The Hypotheticals’, on tour in the Northern Territory (2022). Photo Paz Tassone

The play’s debut landed up being postponed by a year due to the pandemic, but eventually dates were confirmed for a premiere at the 2021 Darwin Festival, says Reuben. “It felt like we’d been working on it for a very long time and it felt like one of the most important things in my life at that time.”

In the meantime Reuben was no longer single. And then she fell pregnant.

“It was a complete surprise,” she says, “Jeff and I started counting, and I was saying, ‘I’m only going to be five months pregnant [when we perform The Hypotheticals]’, and Jeff was like, ‘no you’re going to be SEVEN months pregnant!’ We started sending photos to each other of what people look like at that point in their pregnancy. At that stage we wondered, do we pull the show? Or do we keep doing it?

“We decided to keep going, even though the pivotal question in the show is ‘Do these people have a baby together?’”

It always felt very important …. that having a child is a thought-through thing and you’re not just doing it because that’s what the world says you should do.

“It was quite funny,” recalls Fowler. “We rewrote the beginning of the show to say to the audience, hey, if you perceive that either of the performers are pregnant, you have to imagine that away. The show is all about imagining, about hypotheticals; I kind of enjoyed the meta-narrative.”

While babies (imagined or otherwise) are central to the work, Fowler says that’s not all it’s about. “We hone in on friends co-parenting, because even though it’s about bebes, this is very much a story of friendship.”

As it turns out, it’s also a useful show if you’re thinking about whether or not to have a baby. “We’ve had people bring the person that they’re thinking about having a child with to the show, just to start a conversation, which maybe they were struggling to find a starting point for,” says Reuben.

And perhaps, she says, that’s the work’s most significant takeaway.

“It always felt very important, not to tell people what the right decision is, but …. that having a child is a thought-through thing and you’re not just doing it because that’s what the world says you should do,” says Reuben.

“What I like about this play is that it’s a heartwarming story about friendship,” concludes Fowler,” but underneath it, I think there’s actually a really subversive question, which is, what if the best person you could have a baby with is not a romantic partner?”

The Hypotheticals plays the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia, 29 July – 5 August 2023.

Pictured top: Jeffery Jay Fowler and Sarah Reuben performing ‘The Hypotheticals’ during a 2022 tour of the Northern Territory. Photo: Paz Tassone

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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