Last night we had our first staged reading of the season at the awesomely renovated Stage 773, of Jay Koepke’s awesome and challenging new play Pietra, Or The Stone Baby. The performances were fabulous, and the talkback after the show particularly enlightening, maybe a little polarized. The heightened reality and magicality (I’m allowed to make up words here) of the play was for some of our audience members something new and kind of foreign- after all, people in real life don’t actually have Stone Babies, right?
For those of you who weren’t able to attend the reading, Pietra really gets going when Tate, a British woman married to an agoraphobic man who is secretly not agoraphobic, is informed at the hospital that she has been carrying a calcified fetus inside her for who knows how long. Thanks partially to a particularly callous and crazy doctor, Tate is left mostly on her own to process that information. The doctor asks her insensitive (and possibly Hippocratic oath violating) questions about her child- what she would have named it, if she’s upset about the lost opportunities for t-ball games and graduations. While listening to it, aside from being absolutely horrified at the doctor’s tact (or, nope, sorry, complete and utter lack thereof), I found myself wondering, What if?
After all, this Stone Baby business is a real-and-possible thing. It’s not anywhere near common, but it has happened. In some cases, women can carry these stone children (called “lithopedion,” from the Ancient Greek for “stone” and “child”) for half a century without consequence. Without going too far into the medical fact of it, lithopedia generally occur during an abdominal pregnancy when the fetus dies but is too large to be reabsorbed by the body. So, sort of like an oyster (in an entirely inappropriate metaphor kind of way), the woman’s body calcifies the fetus, basically turning it into a stone in her abdomen. (If you really feel compelled to see what one looks like, check out the wikipedia article for the least terrifying picture of one. And then if you’re not satisfied, do a quick google image search. At least the first two images there are real.)
It’s hard to imagine what that would be like, to discover you’re carrying what is (to put it bluntly) a fossil of what could have been a child, and Pietra explores that in a touching, challenging, and sometimes just hilarious way.
That’s got me thinking, though. There’s a lot of strange things out there that our bodies do, sometimes in an effort to protect ourselves, sometimes because something in there’s just been wired wrong. (And have you heard about this rooster that just decided it needed to become a chicken, and so did?) Not that every medical issue would make a good theatre piece (Bunions the Musical, anybody? Anybody?) but what sort of crazy can-you-believe-human-bodies-do-that things have been on your mind lately? I bet there’s at least an interesting discussion to be had here, if not a play as compelling as Pietra.