Seeing playwright Jennifer Blackmer’s “Predictor,” the real-life story about Margaret M. (Meg) Crane, the inventor of the home pregnancy test, was a reminder of why there is absolutely nothing like live theatre. And as far as those producing it, locally, few are doing it as well as American Lives Theatre which continues to present relevant, thought-provoking and compelling work with intrepid artistic director and co-founder Chris Saunders at the helm. I saw the world premiere of “Predictor” Saturday at Basile Theatre at Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre.
Another factor that sets ALT theatre apart from the pack is the superior caliber of its casts and the consistent quality of their performances. In fact, it is my observation, that ATL has developed a reputation as an actor’s mecca for practicing one’s craft. And based on what I saw on the intimate Basile stage, those in “Predictor” more than lived up to that perception.
Guided masterfully by Bridget Haight, a fine actor herself, in her directorial debut, the stellar ensemble included Brittany Magee (Meg Crane), along with her fellow actors who played multiple characters. They were Christine Zavakos (Chorus #1), Jen Johansen (Chorus #2), Miki Mathioudakis (Chorus #3), Zach Neiditch (Chorus #4), Drew Vidal (Chorus #5), and Clay Mabbitt (Chorus #6).
Engaging and funny, “Predictor” tells the story of Meg Crane, an inventor and graphic designer, who created the first at home pregnancy test in 1967, while working at Organon Pharmaceuticals in West Orange, New Jersey. Although she had no background in science, Crane felt it was necessary and important for women to perform a pregnancy test at home and do it in a quicker fashion, so she designed a prototype that consisted of a paper clip holder, a test tube, a mirror, and a dropper. The fully developed test did not become available to the home consumer until 1977. In the meantime, Crane had to fight resistance from the medical community, religious groups, and from male colleagues within her company who were blatant sexists, relentlessly belittling and condescending to her. But throughout it all, the always positive Crane courageously persisted, as she learned to assert herself, holding her ground until she defied all odds and expectations to invent a product that was a game changer in the lives of the average woman.
Written with a non-linear structure, Crane’s story shifts back and forth from her Catholic girl upbringing to her arrival at Organon to her tenure at the drug company, as she fought numerous obstacles to get her test to the marketplace. Giving the show its abundant theatricality was its uber energetic pace, with members of the chorus playing figures from throughout Crane’s life in short scenes that made it necessary for quick costume and scene changes and myriad lighting cues. The show’s blocking was a masterpiece in its disciplined choreography executed by the focused actors, whose multiple seamless, transformations were a wonder to behold.
Worthy of note as well is the production’s creative team that made it possible for the world of Blackmer’s clever script to be realized. They include set designer Kerry Lee Chipman, lighting designer Laura Glover, sound designer and composer Mina Keohane, and costume designer Molly VanNatta.
Normally, I try to review a show’s opening night, with a goal of drawing attention to the piece I am seeing. Unfortunately, in the case of “Predictor,” I was not able to attend the May 4 performance. However, for those reading this who have not yet seen this highly entertaining ATL production, I highly recommend that you take advantage of experiencing this inspiring and engrossing work sometime this weekend through May 28.
For tickets and information about “Predictor” visit phoenixtheatre.org.