(Not to be copied without author’s permission)
An Immaculate Misconception
By Carl Djerassi
(A play in 2 acts with 2 alternative endings)
Department of Chemistry
Stanford, CA 94305-5080
e-mail: email@example.com URL: http://www.djerassi.com
Sex in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction
“The technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.”
(from Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936)
The sub-title, “Sex in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” of my play is an allusion to Walter Benjamin’s famous essay of 1936 on “Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” I chose it because I consider the impending separation of sex (in bed) and fertilization (under the microscope) one of the fundamental issues facing humanity during the coming century. I picked Benjamin’s phrase for a second reason as well: in our preoccupation to conceive, we often forget the product of all the technologies we utilize, namely the resulting child. Benjamin argues, “The technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.” All the reader has to do is to substitute “child” for “reproduced object” in order to land right in the middle of the ethical thicket that reproductive technologists invariably face: they support heroic efforts by many couples to overcome certain biological hurdles that may very well harm rather than benefit the “reproduced object.”
Impregnation of a woman’s egg by a fertile man in normal sexual intercourse requires tens of millions of sperm—as many as 100 million in one ejaculate. Successful fertilization with one single sperm is a total impossibility, considering that a man ejaculating even 1 - 3 million sperm is functionally infertile. But in 1992, Gianpiero Palermo, Hubert Joris, Paul Devroey, and André C. Van Steirteghem from the University of Brussels published their sensational paper in Lancet, 340, 17 (1992), in which they announced the successful fertilization of a human egg with a single sperm by direct injection under the microscope, followed by reinsertion of the egg into the woman’s uterus. ICSI—the accepted acronym for “intracytoplasmic sperm injection”—has now become the most powerful tool for the treatment of male infertility: well over 150,000 ICSI babies have already been born since 1992.
This is the factual background of ICSI. But because “An Immaculate Misconception” is a play, all characters and especially the chronology, though not the actual science*, are fictional—especially the reproductive biologist, Dr. Melanie Laidlaw, ICSI’s putative inventor. ICSI’s ethical problems, however, remain even after the curtain has dropped.
Hamburg, January 2005
*The film of an ICSI procedure shown in Scene 5 is based on an actual fertilization conducted by Dr. Roger A. Pedersen of the University of California, San Francisco, while that in Scene 6 was performed by Dr. Barry R. Behr of Stanford University.
Cast of Characters
Dr. MELANIE LAIDLAW: American reproductive biologist, late 30s, slender, athletic, with good-looking legs (relevant to scene 1).
VITALY SLAVSKY: Russian nuclear physicist, 45 - 50, muscular. Speaks excellent English, but preferably with distinct Russian accent.
Dr. FELIX FRANKENTHALER: American clinician and infertility specialist (late 30s to early 50s).
IVAN: Young teenager (17 year old in Prologue, 14-year old in Epilogue).
YURY: Fraternal twin of Ivan (14-year old in alternative Epilogue.
The action of the play takes place between 2000 and 2001.
PROLOGUE: Excerpt from Ovid’s Fasti.
Scene 1: May 2000, bedroom of European provincial hotel on the occasion of a scientific Congress.
Scene 2: September 2000, Dr. Melanie Laidlaw’s laboratory at the REPCON Institute for Reproductive Biology and Infertility Research on the East Coast, USA.
Scene 3: November 2000, sperm bank dream scene in laboratory.
Scene 4: January 2001, same setting as Scene 1.
Scene 5: Sunday, February 11, 2001, same setting as scene 2.
Scene 6: Five minutes later, same setting as preceding scene.
Scene 7: September 2001, same setting as preceding scene.
Scene 8: A few minutes later, same setting as preceding scene.
Scene 9: One week later, same setting as preceding scene.
Scene 10: Early December 2001, same setting as preceding scene.
Scene 11: Fourteen years later (2015).
EPILOGUE: Excerpt from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
The two videos—provided by the author in VHS or DVD format and to be shown on the rear screen in Scenes 5 and 6—depict an actual ICSI fertilization that needs to be coordinated with the dialog. (A sample sound dialog is included with one of the videos).
The e-mail interludes can be projected in real time (preferable) or as intact texts following Scenes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9.
Prologue. Spotlight focuses on MELANIE, dressed as FLORA (Roman goddess of flowers and plants) whose face may be hidden by a mask or veil. FLORA’s words are based on Book 5 (May) of Ovid’s Fasti (Roman Holidays) in the translation of Betty Rose Nagle (Indiana University Press, 1995).
A hidden flower from a magic shop, which is suddenly produced (e.g. out of a cloth) in the penultimate stanza, would be a desirable prop.
As soon as I saw her, I said, “What brings you here,
Juno, daughter of Saturn?”
”No words,” she said, “are going to relieve my distress.
Why should I give up hope of motherhood without a spouse
and of chastely giving birth without touching a man?
I am going to try every drug the wide world over.”
While this speech was in progress, I wore a hesitant expression.
Three times I wanted to promise help, but my tongue stayed stuck.
Jupiter’s anger was a cause of great fear.
”Bring help, I pray; the source will remain concealed,” she said,
swearing by the power of Stygian water.
”Your object,” I said, “will be supplied by a flower sent me”.
My supplier said, “Touch a barren heifer with this
and she’ll be a mother.” I did and at once she was.
Right away I plucked the resisting flower with my thumb.
I touched Juno’s belly and she conceived at the touch.
She got her wish and a son was born.
Scene 1 (May 2002. Abroad, at a scientific conference): Bedroom in a provincial central European hotel. Visible are an unmade bed and, a chair bearing a woman’s discarded clothes. VITALY slouches on a second chair, wearing jeans and holding in his hand a shirt, which he gradually puts on and buttons as the conversation progresses. On the floor near the chair lie his socks and shoes, which he also gradually puts on. MELANIE, wrapped toga-fashion in a bed sheet, her naked legs showing just below her knees, sits by the side of the bed very close to VITALY’s chair. She stretches out her legs, first one and then the other. VITALY observes.
VITALY: Great legs.
MELANIE (Lifts them briefly): I know. But thanks anyway.
VITALY: And so smooth. When I saw your legs for the first time in the sauna last night, I knew I’d have to touch them. (Beat). You were the only one wrapped in a towel.
MELANIE: We Yankees are more prudish than you Russians… especially in saunas.—
VITALY (Laughs): I think my prudish Melanie is over-generalizing.
MELANIE: Okay… but it’s also prudent to wear a towel in a mixed sauna.
VITALY: Prudish and prudent are not the same… not in the dictionary and not in life.
MELANIE (Quick): True enough.
VITALY: So you are mostly prudent?
MELANIE: Yes… until tonight. (Turns serious). Vitaly, we know each other biblically, but I know so little about you.
VITALY: And I don’t know much more about you…other than that you’re a scientist…or you wouldn’t be here at this Congress. Tell me something personal.
MELANIE: You want to know what kind of science I do?
VITALY: No! It’s not your science that interests me…. You can’t make love to science.
MELANIE: I’m alone.
VITALY: That I know… or we wouldn’t be here. But are you alone in general?
MELANIE: I’m a widow.
MELANIE: And I have no children.
VITALY: How old are you?
VITALY (Pretends to study her carefully): Thirty-seven years… plus or minus seven months.
MELANIE (Laughs): Not far off the mark. So you see? I don’t have too much time left… I mean time for having children. But what about you?
VITALY: Do I want children? At one time, yes. But not anymore.
MELANIE: Am I getting too personal?
VITALY: Maybe. (Pause). Ask something else.
MELANIE: How old are you?
VITALY (Mock whisper): That information is classified. (Louder) Now it’s my turn again.
MELANIE (Starts to rise, but then just moves further away at edge of bed): You mean something really personal?
MELANIE: Wait! First, do you believe me that I’ve never done this before?
VITALY: Define “this.”
MELANIE (Attempts offhandedness, but is slightly embarrassed): Having … ah…you know… carnal relations—
VITALY (Laughs): You really use that expression in America—
(He attempts to continue, but she leans over to put her hand over his mouth.)
MELANIE: —with a man I met only a few hours ago at a scientific congress… about whom I know practically nothing other than that he is a Russian nuclear hotshot, who—
VITALY (Interrupts laughingly): Just happened to invite you to a mixed sauna?
MELANIE: You think I make a habit of hopping into bed—
VITALY (Laughs): “Hopping into bed.” How American!
MELANIE: All right… so what would you say?
VITALY: Make love “with.” Or maybe, “to.”
MELANIE: And you prefer?
MELANIE: Is that what we did?
VITALY: It was “with”… “To” is different. Someone has to take the initiative.
VITALY (Plays with her hair or other gesture of affection): No, I don’t… at least, not this time. (Beat) I think I’d leave it up to my prudent Puritan—
MELANIE (Quick, but softly): Maybe I’ll try to make love to you... if there is a next time.
VITALY: There will be another time… there must be!
MELANIE: You’re that sure?
VITALY: Yes … because you’re no bed hopper.
MELANIE: You really believe that? Honestly?
VITALY: I believe you—honestly.
MELANIE: How come?
VITALY: I believe you, because it’s also true for me.
MELANIE: You’ve never slept with a woman you barely knew?
VITALY: Well… (Pause), not one I met only twenty-four hours ago.
MELANIE: Hmm what?
VITALY: Before, you started with “first…”
VITALY: First, that you’re not a bed-hopper. But what was “second”?
VITALY: Yes, “second.” When you spoke about carnal relations, you said, “first.” So there must be a second. Actually, I can guess what that was.
MELANIE: Tell me.
VITALY: You first. If I guessed wrong, I’d be embarrassed.
MELANIE: No. (Shakes her head vigorously). You first. Please.
VITALY: All right: You’ve never before made love to a married man.
MELANIE (Clearly relieved): Thanks.
VITALY: For what?
MELANIE: For guessing right.
VITALY: In that case, can I now ask my question?
VITALY (nuzzles her): Did you know I was married when you came up to me during the coffee break?
MELANIE: Not really. (Pause). But I suspected it.
MELANIE: Because most men at this conference seem to be married.
VITALY (Ironic): So I looked married?
MELANIE: You didn’t look single. (Beat). You looked… (searches for word)… not loose enough. You weren’t finger-branded, but I sensed some stamp of ownership.
VITALY: So why didn’t you ask?
MELANIE: Come now! I should have sidled up to you and said: “I’m Doctor Melanie Laidlaw. By the way, are you married?” (Both laugh). Besides (she turns serious), I preferred not to know.
MELANIE: If I had known—at that stage—that you were married… I mean known unequivocally… I wouldn’t have… I couldn’t have…. (Long pause). Vitaly… you’re only—
VITALY: You don’t have to tell me.
MELANIE: Yes I do. I have to. The first man was in my last year in college. So you see I wasn’t a girl anymore. And the second was my husband, who was also my professor.
VITALY (Leans forward. He is clearly intrigued, even flattered): So what made you—
MELANIE: Hop into bed with you? Just because I have not made love with anyone since my husband’s death does not mean that I have no sexual feelings.
VITALY (Reaches over and succeeds in touching her. Softly): I know that.
MELANIE: This scientist knows enough chemistry to recognize a unique reaction—one I’ve never experienced before.
VITALY: You’re right about the spontaneous chemistry between us.
MELANIE: I said “unique.”
VITALY: And the difference?
MELANIE: Spontaneous ones have a tendency to quickly fizzle out… unless you add something.
VITALY: Such as?
MELANIE: A chemist would say, you need more reagents… or maybe a catalyst.
VITALY: Whereupon a physicist would ask, what kind?
MELANIE: It’s too early to ask. Right now, the reaction is still sizzling… not fizzling.
VITALY: Maybe because I wanted it to sizzle, I didn’t tell you—right then and there in the sauna—that I was married. But now you know everything.
MELANIE: Everything? (Pause). For a scientist, that’s a meaningless word. You can never know everything. But you can learn when to stop looking for more.
(He starts to speak, but she takes him by the hand)
Come…. not just “with” me…. come “to” me.
END OF SCENE 1
E-Mail Interlude (put in chat room format)
After Scene 1
Date: Sat, 30 May 2002 08:51:59
Since you gave me your e-mail address, can I assume nobody reads your messages?
VITALY: I’m the only one.
MELANIE: My dear Vitaly,There’s so much to say, but I can’t put it down. I’ve never had an e-mail affair before. I don’t even know the etiquette.
VITALY: We’ll establish our own etiquette. I’ll start with “My lovely Melanie.” Now it’s your turn.
MELANIE: In that case forget “My dear Vitaly.” I don’t want you to sound like my uncle.
VITALY: How about “Dearest Vitaly”?
MELANIE: Not special enough. How about Ami exquis, exquis amant!
VITALY: Why French? Are you showing off?
MELANIE: Just a bit.
VITALY: Enough about e-mail etiquette. How about etiquette in bed?
MELANIE: Is it prudent to discuss that topic by e-mail?
MELANIE: How about: “Making love with a stranger is best, because there is no riddle and there is no test.”
VITALY: It even rhymes.
MELANIE: But then while dreaming of an encore, I found you were no stranger anymore.
VITALY: Wow! Pure poetry!
MELANIE: I’m becoming imprudent. Enough cyber-chatter.
Scene 2 (September 2000). Reproductive biology laboratory of Dr. Melanie Laidlaw at the REPCON Infertility Research Center). Two stools and a lab table bearing typical biologist’s lab paraphernalia: optional examples are Petri dishes, pipette dispenser, rack of small tubes, perhaps a tabletop centrifuge. The only indispensable item is a large microscope with double eyepiece, which is a key item in next scenes. Overall appearance somewhat untidy. Felix Frankenthaler sits across from Melanie Laidlaw on lab stool. Both are sipping tea.
MELANIE (Banters while still looking through microscope): I hope you don’t consider this slumming… having tea with a lowly Ph.D. in a modest biology lab.
(Looks up, pushes stool away from lab table, swings around to face FELIX for rest of conversation. Smiles affectionately).
FELIX (Grins briefly): Slumming? In your lab? Never! (Takes sip). And you…”lowly”?
MELANIE (Grins back): All right… a first-class Ph.D.
FELIX (Takes a sip): Good tea… but where are the cookies?
MELANIE: I avoid sugar… and so should you. But thanks for coming.
FELIX: You said it was hot stuff.
MELANIE: It is.
FELIX: So let’s hear it. (Sits down on other lab stool).
MELANIE: I‘m now at a stage of my research where I need a clinical hotshot as collaborator. Someone like the eminent Dr. Felix Frankenthaler.
FELIX (Bantering): Someone like me? When you called, you said I was unique.
MELANIE: I didn’t think flattery would hurt.
FELIX: It never does.
MELANIE: But you are special: a top-notch infertility clinician, while (assumes bantering tone) I’m just a lowly lab scientist.
FELIX (Similar bantering tone): My, my! I would never have expected such words from you! Such self-denigration.
MELANIE (Still bantering): I’m just buttering you up. But (switches to matter of fact tone)… we each bring something to the table that the other hasn’t got. (Pause). Your clinic is the best on the East Coast.
FELIX (Laughs pleased): At least we agree on something. Well? How far are you?
MELANIE: I finally managed to work it all out in hamsters.
FELIX: What’s next?
MELANIE (Triumphantly): Fertilize a human egg! Just think of it: by directly injecting a single sperm!
FELIX: Intracytoplasmic… sperm… injection.
MELANIE: Exactly! (Spells it out slowly): I…C…S…I... (Then quickly, as one word): ICSI. And if it works, that acronym will be in the next edition of Webster’s Dictionary!
FELIX: ICSI even sounds like a kid’s name… something that my patients can identify with. (Pause). If they knew what you were up to in here… they’d be breaking down your door.
(He looks around the lab, almost, but not quite, shaking his head)
Men with sperm counts so low they can never become biological fathers in the usual way. They won’t care if egg penetration is performed under a microscope or in bed… just so it’s their own sperm.
MELANIE: Frankly, I was thinking of women… specifically this one.
FELIX: I can understand that. You’ll be famous… world-famous… if a normal baby is born through ICSI. So far, of course, a big if! But now that you’ve succeeded with hamster eggs, why not try some more animal models?
MELANIE: Golden hamsters are the best animal models for this type of work. Any respectable reproductive biologist will tell you that.
FELIX: What’s the rush?
MELANIE: You think the competition is sleeping?
FELIX: Still… failure is not going to get you famous.
MELANIE: Then forget about fame. What about ICSI and motherhood?
FELIX: Is motherhood all that attractive a profession? Incidentally, a question I would deny I even raised—I, whose livelihood depends on getting women pregnant.
MELANIE: In my book, mother love is the only true emotion that can’t be faked. (Pause). Well… maybe not all. True fear can’t be faked.
FELIX: What about father love?
MELANIE: The bonding is different. Besides, in most species, the father doesn’t even know the identity of his offspring.
FELIX: We aren’t “most” species. We practice parenthood.
MELANIE: You asked if motherhood was such an attractive profession. I’m not so sure it has to be attractive. For some women, it‘s an obsession. You should know that.
FELIX: I don’t see what desire… or even obsession… for motherhood has to do with ICSI. If a single woman wants a child before it’s too late, all she needs to do is to get inseminated with clinically proven, fertile sperm?
MELANIE (Mocking tone): In other words, look for a man like you who has already fathered two children?
FELIX (Defensive). I’m not promoting my availability. But yes… men like me. With a fertile woman the success rate of standard artificial insemination with such sperm is very high. I’d say as high as in ordinary intercourse. So why not go to a sperm bank?
MELANIE: I, for one, would be reluctant to go—
FELIX: You’re speaking on behalf of all women, some women, or simply yourself? In my experience, my patients—
MELANIE (Irritable): I’m not your patient and I’m not infertile. At least not yet.
FELIX: In that case you wouldn’t need ICSI. It’s men, who’d need it… those men that we in the business call “reproductively impaired.”
MELANIE: Felix, you haven’t changed. You’re a first-class doctor… (Pause)
FELIX (Bantering): But, but, but…? Let’s hear the but.
MELANIE: But… you look at everything through testosterone-tinted glasses.
FELIX (Still affectionate banter): And what’s my colleague’s estrogen-etched view?
MELANIE: In the case of ICSI, that’s easy… especially since my glasses aren’t etched, but polished. (Grins). Maybe that’s why I see further than you. (Pause).
ICSI could become an answer to overcoming the biological clock. And if that works, it will affect many more women than there are infertile men. (Grins). I’ll even become famous. We’ll become famous… that is if you come on board as my clinical collaborator.
FELIX: Not so fast, Dr. Laidlaw! Sure… I’d also be famous… with you… if that first ICSI fertilization is successful… and if a normal baby is born. But what’s ICSI got to do with (slightly sarcastic) “a woman’s biological clock?”
MELANIE (Leans forward, excited): Felix, in your IVF practice, it’s not uncommon to freeze embryos for months and years before implanting them into a woman.
MELANIE: So take frozen eggs.
FELIX (Dismissive): I know all about frozen eggs…they’re very different from embryos. There‘re even problems with just freezing them. And after thawing, artificial insemination hardly ever works…. Do you want to hear the reasons for those failures?
MELANIE: Who cares? What I’m doing isn’t ordinary artificial insemination… I’m not exposing the egg to lots of sperm and then letting them struggle on their own through the egg’s natural barrier. (Pause). We inject right into the egg… (Pause). Now, if ICSI works in humans—
FELIX: A big if.
MELANIE (Getting irritable): Felix… you’re beginning to repeat yourself. It’s not “if”… it’s “when!” And when is now! Think of those women… right now, mostly professional ones… who postpone childbearing to their late thirties or even early forties. America and Europe are full of them.
FELIX: True. And so are the newspapers… with advice for single women.
MELANIE (Derisive tone): But what they don’t tell them is that by then, the quality of their eggs… their own eggs… is not what it was when these women were ten years younger. (Becomes progressively more emphatic). So once the cryopreservation of eggs is perfected… and that’s just a matter of time… with ICSI, such women could draw on a bank account of their frozen young eggs and have a much better chance of having a normal pregnancy later on in life. I’m not talking about surrogate eggs—
FELIX: Later in life? Near… or even past the menopause?
MELANIE: You convert men in their fifties into successful donors—
FELIX: Then why not women? Are you serious?
MELANIE: I’m not sure that we reproductive scientists ought to open the door to postmenopausal pregnancies. But reducing the hazards of the biological clock by several years—say to the middle or even late forties? I see no reason why more women shouldn’t have that option.
FELIX: Well—if that works… you won’t just become famous… you’ll be notorious.
MELANIE: I’ll risk the notoriety. The fame, I’ll share with you.
FELIX (Mollified): Okay…. So we’ve got a new method of fertilization. But now, we need a controlled experiment. We’ll take a fertile egg from a young woman—
MELANIE: Hold it, Felix! What do you mean… “We’ll take?” (Forcefully). Who is running this show?
FELIX (Retreats): You are… of course.
MELANIE: Glad to hear that. Which is why I’ll select the egg. And “young”? Don’t you see, women can soon be young even at my age.
FELIX: Youngish then. But at least use good fertile sperm. Let’s not complicate our work before we’re off the ground. Anyway… if that direct injection works, ICSI will become the method of choice for treating male infertility.
MELANIE: That’s all fine and good. But think beyond that… to a wider vision of ICSI. I’m sure the day will come—maybe in another thirty years or even earlier—when sex and fertilization will be separate. Sex will be for love or lust—
FELIX: And reproduction under the microscope? Sure… infertile persons do that all the time. (Pause). But fertile couples?
MELANIE: And why not?
FELIX: Reducing men to providers of a single sperm?
MELANIE (Laughs): What’s wrong with emphasizing quality over quantity? I’m not talking of test tube babies or genetic manipulation. And I’m certainly not promoting ovarian promiscuity, trying a different man’s sperm with each egg.
FELIX (Chuckles): “Ovarian promiscuity!” That’s a new one. So what are you promoting?
MELANIE (Now serious and deliberate): Each embryo will be screened genetically before the best one is transferred back into the woman’s uterus. It’s that ability for pre-implantation genetic screening of the embryos… more than anything else… that will convince fertile couples to resort to in vitro fertilization. Why not improve the odds over Nature’s roll of the dice before you’re pregnant?
FELIX: We doctors do this all the time with older women through amniocentesis—
MELANIE: But only after they’ve been pregnant for several months! The only option you then offer them is abortion! In my scenario, the 21st century will be called “The Century of Art.”
FELIX: Not science? Not technology?
MELANIE: The century of… A… R… T (Slow and deliberate): assisted… reproductive… technologies. Young men and women will open reproductive bank accounts full of frozen sperm and eggs. And when they want a baby, they’ll go to the bank to check out what they need.
FELIX: Once they have such a bank account… they might as well get sterilized.
MELANIE: Exactly! They’ll just do earlier in life what millions of middle-aged persons are already doing all the time—for instance half the married couples in China… or a third of all Americans. If my prediction is on target, other forms of birth control will become superfluous.
FELIX (Ironic): I see. And the pill will end up in a museum… (Pause)… of 20th century Art?
MELANIE: Of course it won’t happen overnight…. But A… R… T is pushing us that way… and I’m not saying it’s all for the good. It will first happen among the most affluent people… and certainly not all over the world. At the outset, I suspect it will be right here… in the States… and especially in California.
FELIX (Shakes head): Melanie’s Brave New World.
MELANIE: Are you afraid to help me make that possible?
FELIX: No… not afraid. But before you know it, single women could use ICSI to become single mothers… the Amazons of the 21st century. That worries me.
MELANIE: Forget about the Amazons! Just think of women who haven’t found the right partner… or had been stuck with a lousy guy... or women who just want a child before it’s too late… in other words, Felix… think of women like me.
(Upon Felix’s departure, she goes to computer and starts typing E-mail message which appears on screen. But each typed sentence gets erased—showing in the end that the message was not sent off)
My dear Vitaly. (Erases, starts over again). Fabulous Vitaly. (Hesitates, then erases again). Vitaly -- Back then you told me that one couldn’t make love to science. (Short pause). Let me confess… (Hesitates, then erases last three words). I’m not so sure about that any more. (Pause) But first, I must… (Erases everything as LIGHTS DIM)
END OF SCENE 2
Scene 3 (November 2000, to be staged as MELANIE’s dream. Single MALE VOICE is heard from offstage or two men (VITALY and FELIX)—their faces masked or too dimly lit to be easily recognizable—speak either in unison or in quick alternation).
MELANIE: This is no ordinary bank.
MALE VOICE: You’re no ordinary client, Dr. Laidlaw.
MELANIE: I want to check about withdrawals for research purposes.
MALE VOICE: You want to withdraw?
MELANIE: I’m just inquiring.
MALE VOICE: What size withdrawal?
MELANIE: I need one spermatozoon.
MALE VOICE: Sorry… our minimal withdrawal is 80 million.
MELANIE: You see I’m looking for a potential father.
MALE VOICE: Then a sperm bank is no place—
MELANIE: Sorry! I meant potential donor.
MALE VOICE: That we can provide.
MELANIE: I’d like to know about available choices.
MALE VOICE: Probably more than you can imagine.
MALE VOICE: Just try us.
MELANIE: How specific can I be?
MALE VOICE: Very. For instance…take hair: (Reads very rapidly): balding, thin, average, thick… and is it curly, wavy or straight?
MELANIE: What about hair color?
MALE VOICE: No problem. Even the color of eyebrows. (Pause)… Let me continue: dimples, cleft chin, Roman nose…. Is he right or left-handed?…. If there are freckles, are there few or many? (Pause, slowing down). Or take shoe size—
MELANIE (Interrupts surprised): Why would that be relevant?
MALE VOICE: Could be genetic… like height or body size. I guess you’re starting to get the picture. Or suppose you want to know about the man’s skin? (Again speeds up): Very fair, fair, medium, olive or dark? And if the man checks “olive” or “dark”, he’s got to check one of four boxes: light tan, dark tan, brown, or black.
MELANIE: Enough! What about ethnic background?
MALE VOICE: Our current files list 80 choices.
MELANIE: That’s too many for me.
MALE VOICE: You only need to pick one.
MELANIE: What about a Russian?
MALE VOICE (Surprised tone): Russian? Nobody has asked for one before. But let’s have a look. (Pause). What do you know? Donor number 2062: Russian… (use actual description of actor playing VITALY along following lines): 5 foot 11, 165 pounds… straight black hair… same color eye-brows… rather bushy like Brezhnev’s. (Stops) Oh, oh!
MELANIE (Concerned): Anything wrong?
MALE VOICE: It says here shoe size 13… rather large for a man of less than 6 feet.
MELANIE (Laughs, relieved): Never mind… I can live with that. Does it give his profession?
MALE VOICE: Of course. Nuclear physicist—
MELANIE (Laughs): Sounds promising.
MALE VOICE: There are… let’s see… 26 pages. Let me just give you the headings. (Starts speaking very rapidly): Math skills, mechanical skills, athletic skills, favorite sport, favorite car—
MELANIE (Amused): And what car strikes my Russian’s fancy?
MALE VOICE: Ferrari.
MALE VOICE: Red, of course.
MELANIE: I think you’re making this up.
MALE VOICE (Ignoring her, continues):… hobbies, artistic abilities, favorite authors—
MELANIE (Astonished): Authors?
MALE VOICE (Cool): Why not? Suppose you noticed that your Russian physicist is reading Danielle Steele. Don’t you think that tells you something about him?
MELANIE (Laughs briefly): I suppose so. (Quickly turns businesslike). This is all very amusing… but what about genetic makeup?
MALE VOICE: We check for Tay-Sachs Disease, Huntington’s disease, Gaucher’s disease, Wilson’s disease, Crohn’s disease… again, you get the idea. All donors are rigorously screened…. Additional tests may be requested… at your expense, of course. We do accept Master Card or Visa… but no American Express. Full reports are available.
MELANIE: Could I get a photo?
MALE VOICE: This is a sperm bank, not a dating service. Our profiles will give you more data than most wives ever get.
MELANIE: I’m a widow… not a wife. And I don’t want to adopt. I want to be a biological mother bearing my own child… and time is running out.
MALE VOICE: We’ll provide a fertile donor… but no photos.
MELANIE (To herself): I was hoping I’d convince myself that an anonymous sperm donor would do. But no, I think I’ve got to hear the answers, not just read them. No… even that’s not enough…. I guess I had to come here to find out I need to know the man.
MALE VOICE: A sperm bank may not be your first port of call then. (Pause) Romance is in short supply here. All we’ve got is billions of sperm, but no partners.
MELANIE: But I need one of each.
END OF SCENE 3
After Scene 3
Date: Mon, 04 Dec 2000 11:32:28
I continue to be surprised by the intensity of my desire for you and stunned by its persistence. A bridge connects, but it also separates—as does sexual pleasure. I have prided myself that what we had wasn’t simply a one-night stand, but now I realize that a four-night stand is not much longer. Does the persistence of my desire—almost 8 months now—add to those days? Does it make this a 240-night stand? And can desire alone make something substantial out of what we did? Not mine alone, certainly. But if it were ours? OUR desire?
Scene 4. (January 2001, living room area of a hotel suite at a scientific Congress).
The only light is a dim lamp on an end table or stray
moonlight through a window. Upstage center is a partially open bedroom door.
Suddenly, MELANIE is silhouetted in the doorway, barefoot, wearing nothing but
a man’s shirt, with a small object in her right hand. She tiptoes quickly and
quietly to the end table next to a sofa where a zippered toilet bag is seen in
the dim light. It immediately becomes obvious that she is holding a used,
extended condom. Carefully, in a time-consuming manner, she ties the open top
of the condom into a knot and then reaches for the bag, trying (unsuccessfully)
per it. Finally, holding the condom between her teeth, she
uses both hands to open the bag and removes a small, wide-mouth thermos bottle
(or preferably, a Dewar flask), which she unscrews. She drops the condom
directly from her mouth into the thermos, screws top on tightly with visible
effort, then replaces it in the bag and closes the zipper. She is about to
return to the bedroom when VITALY, sheet or blanket wrapped around him in toga
fashion, appears in the doorway.
MELANIE (Recovers quickly from her surprise): Vitaly!
VITALY (Bantering): Did you expect room service?
MELANIE (Coyly): Not so soon again.
VITALY: I missed you.
MELANIE: So soon after—
VITALY: Especially so soon.
MELANIE: Well… here I am.
VITALY: But why did you leave?
MELANIE: Man proposes but woman disposes. Don’t ask… it’s a woman’s thing. (Quickly leads him to sofa. They cuddle affectionately)
VITALY: A penny for your thoughts.
MELANIE: No need to bribe me! Just a kiss.
VITALY: It’s a deal. (Kisses her briefly). And now the thought.
MELANIE: You call that a kiss?
VITALY: It’s a down payment. The rest will follow after I hear the thought.
MELANIE: The rest of the kiss better be good. Now… remember when you asked me to join you in the sauna? As a pretext for inspecting me… unclothed?
VITALY: You weren’t naked! You were wrapped in a towel.
MELANIE: I already told you… in a sauna it’s prudent to be prudish.
VITALY: Your towel was pretty short.
MELANIE: Still… it covered the essential parts.
VITALY: Which, of course, made it all the more exciting.
MELANIE: I think the sauna was your pond.
VITALY: What are you talking about?
MELANIE: Do you remember the story you told me in the sauna?
VITALY: What story?
MELANIE: About King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
VITALY: Ah, yes. When the King hopped into the queen’s bed or vice versa—
MELANIE (Playfully outraged): What do you mean… “vice versa”? She would never have done that! Queens are taught to be prudent! What you told me… (proceeds to act it out playfully by grabbing a towel or table cloth or other suitable cloth to cover her legs while describing the story)… was that Solomon ordered the construction of a pond in front of his throne and had it covered with glass. When the Queen of Sheba approached his throne and saw the water, she raised her long gown (raises the towel) so as not to get it wet. That’s when he saw her gorgeous legs.
VITALY: And nine months later… (Gives her an intimate kiss and whispers)… the Queen bore fruit.
MELANIE: Wasn’t Solomon married when he met the Queen?
VITALY: What’s that got to do with her becoming pregnant?
MELANIE: Lot’s of women could give you an answer. Of course, she may just have wanted a child and decided to help herself to Solomon’s seed—
VITALY: At least that could never happen to me.
MELANIE: Because you’re smarter than Solomon?
VITALY: Because I’m infertile… from a radiation accident. Severe oligospermia the specialist called it… always using Greek words when “you have too few sperm” would do perfectly well.
MELANIE (Taken aback): So that’s why you once said you can’t have children anymore? I thought you’d meant your age.
VITALY: You still remember what I said eight months ago? How time flies.
MELANIE: No… how slowly it passes. Eight long months.
VITALY (A bit touchy):
We had no
choice I live in Russia and you in the States.
MELANIE: And you’re married….And I shouldn’t allow myself the luxury… or is it the poverty?... of falling in love with a married man.
VITALY: Melanie… I have fallen in love with you—
MELANIE (Interrupts): Men are different… they make love to women but basically, they’re out to spread their seed.
VITALY: Not me. I’m infertile.
MELANIE: Infertility is relative.
VITALY: Mine seems pretty absolute to me.
MELANIE: If you have absolutely no sperm, you’re absolutely infertile. But that’s pretty rare. Reproductive science is moving so rapidly nowadays… (Catches herself before finishing sentence). But enough of science. As we both know, ours is not a scientific congress.
VITALY: So where does that leave us?
MELANIE: It leaves me waiting scientific … that….
MELANIE And do I now have to wait for another 12 months… for
the next Kirchberg Conference… which my married lover always attends (beat )
VITALY: Can you accept that?
MELANIE: I’m not sure.before
: (Beat). Oh, Vitaly…
VITALY (Gently): Give me something I can take with me.
VITALY: A strand of hair will do.
MELANIE: Help yourself.
VITALY: I will… later… after I’ve decided from where. (Kisses her). What would you like of me?
MELANIE (Gently disengages herself): Perhaps you’ve already given me all I’ve been missing.
END OF SCENE 4
After Scene 4
Subject: YOUR Gift
Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2001 20:17:42
I am on pins and needles, because tomorrow is the great day in the lab —perhaps the most important one of my life. Cross your fingers for me! If you bring me luck, then you have given me the greatest gift you could offer.
Scene 5 (Sunday, February 11, 2001). MELANIE, in surgical gown and cap, is sitting by the side of the lab table with a standard ICSI setup consisting of microscope, micromanipulators and related gadgetry as well as a VCR unit connected to the microscope to project the image on a screen (or TV monitor). She sits perpendicular to the screen so that she can observe the images on the screen while pretending to look through the microscope.
FELIX (Enters without knocking): Here I am... punctual as usual. You’re all set up.
MELANIE (Impatient): I’ve been here for quite a while. Change into a gown.
FELIX: This morning is my personal quality time with the kids. Skipping that is a real sacrifice. Don’t I deserve some credit?
MELANIE (Brusquely): Not today! Let’s get started.
(While he puts on gown, MELANIE continues adjusting the microscope)
FELIX: Didn’t anybody tell you that today is Sunday, supposedly a day of rest. You haven’t stopped in two months.
MELANIE: Felix. This is science, not religion.
FELIX: Oh yeah? If this works, don’t think you won’t be accused of playing God.
MELANIE: Let’s worry about that later. Right now, I need steady hands.
(Starts to put on plastic gloves)
FELIX: Of course you do. With a pipette one tenth the thickness of a human hair! But if your hands are shaking, I can do the first injection.
MELANIE: Out of the question.
FELIX: Didn’t I pass with flying colors practising on those hamster eggs?
MELANIE: You did okay with my hamsters, but now let’s get to the real stuff….
FELIX: Before you do… one last time: why don’t you tell me from where you got those eggs?
MELANIE: Why play that broken record again? How often do I have to tell you? This is my experiment!
FELIX: But I’m your collaborator! Doesn’t that give me the right to know?
MELANIE: Sure… but all in good time. Now let’s start.
FELIX: I guess there’s no purpose arguing with you.
MELANIE (Bends over microscope): We’ve got seven first-class eggs harvested—all from the same woman. Let’s see how I do with the first couple of eggs. If everything works out, I’ll let you do the next two. I’ll then finish with the rest.
(Finishes putting on rubber gloves)
Here we go. Felix… would you start the VCR and turn on the tape recorder? I want you to follow on the monitor what I’m doing here under the microscope.
FELIX: Why a tape recorder?
MELANIE: For this first ICSI experiment in history, I want a complete record… picture and sound.
FELIX: Ay, ay… captain, they’re both on.
Pushes the button and turns toward the screen. Both are completely silent as the screen lights up. MELANIE is hunched over the microscope, both hands manipulating the joysticks on each side of the microscope. She sits so as to be able to coordinate her words to action on the screen.
Ah… here we are. (Startled). God, this sperm is low-grade stuff.
(For the initial image with lots of virtually immobile sperm, have rapid ad-libbing between MELANIE and FELIX to match images on screen, such as)
MELANIE: What do you expect from a functionally infertile man?
FELIX (Startled): What? Are you crazy? Sperm from an infertile man? Why did you—?
When image of a couple of actively moving sperm appears, MELANIE, unwilling to disclose at this point source of sperm, interrupts.
FELIX (Distracted from his concern as single active sperm appears at bottom of image, excitedly interrupts, though with sarcasm): Oh yeah, great… two real machos…
(Dialog has to be exactly coordinated with the events on the screen.)
MELANIE: With my ICSI, I need only one…. But first I’ve got to crush its tail so the sperm can’t get away….
(Gasps as sperm heads unexpectedly for capillary, then raises voice, shrilly, almost hysterically)
Oh my God! Look! Felix! Look!… It’s heading straight for the capillary—head first!
FELIX: Oh no! It’s going the wrong way! What now?
MELANIE (Regains calm voice): I’ll have to kick it out and start all over.
(Pause while she ejects sperm)
Out you go! Bet you won’t do that again.
(Quickly moves pipette toward sperm and sounds jubilant as the injection pipette crushes the sperm’s tail)
FELIX: Ouch! Be careful! I bet you hurt him!
MELANIE: That’s what you think! Sperm have no feeling. Now comes the tricky part. I’ve got to aspirate it tail first…. As soon as I get close enough, just a little suction will do the trick…. Hah! Gotcha!
FELIX: Not bad! Not bad at all.
(Screen image displays the sperm, tail first, being sucked into the pipette. Image now shows MELANIE “playing” the sperm’s head by moving it back and forward to demonstrate that she can manipulate it easily).
Quit playing with him! You’ve only got this single one!
MELANIE: I’m not playing with it. I just want to be sure I can manipulate it at will…. And why do you always call sperm “him”? (Silence for a few seconds until image of egg appears). Here we are. Isn’t she gorgeous? Just look at her… my precious beauty… now stay still while I arrange you a bit… while I clasp you on my suction pipette…
FELIX (Points to image of polar body on screen): Polar body on top….
MELANIE: Like a little head. I want it in the 12 o’clock position.
(Egg on screen is now immobilized in precisely the desired position for the
Felix, now cross your fingers.
(He leans forward, clearly fascinated. Injection pipette containing sperm
appears on image but pipette remains immobile.)
FELIX: This is no time for superstition. Just push the capillary in!
MELANIE: It’s just…
(Pause, while image on screen shows injection pipette now aligned exactly in 3 o’clock position with respect to egg)
… doing the very first human ICSI experiment with this sperm into… this egg…
(MELANIE lets out audible gasp of relief as pipette penetrates the egg).
FELIX: (Makes sudden start, as if he had been pricked): My God! You did it! Superb penetration!
(Image shows pipette resting within egg).
Now shoot him out!
(Points to sperm head in pipette)
MELANIE: Here we go.
(Image shows sperm head at the very end of the injection pipette, but it
is not expelled. She aspirates it back into capillary and gives it a second push).
Damn you! First you jump in when you aren’t wanted and now you don’t come out when you should! You’ve got to!
FELIX (Attempts humor): At least this one has never heard of premature ejaculation.
(At third attempt, one can clearly see the sperm head emerging on the
screen from the pipette into the egg cytoplasm).
MELANIE: Ah, that’s a good boy. (Carefully withdraws pipette).
FELIX (Excited): You did it, Melanie! Look at him… just look at him! Sitting in there.
(Approaches image and points to sperm head on screen. Calmer voice).
It’s amazing. That egg looks… what shall I say? Inviolate, almost virginal.
MELANIE (Looks up for first time from microscope): It better not be... I violated it very consciously and tomorrow I expect to see cell division…. Felix (points to VCR), turn off the VCR.
(He does so).
FELIX (Turns accusatory): But Melanie, whose crummy sperm are you using here?
MELANIE: Turn off the tape recorder. I don’t need your complaints on record.
FELIX: They were barely moving…. You could hardly have chosen worse.
MELANIE (Bantering): I could have picked sperm from a dead man.
FELIX: Are you implying that ICSI could be used with such sperm? Or are you just joking? And if you are… (shakes finger), this is not the time for jokes.
MELANIE: I’m not joking… I’m just speculating. If the sperm from a dead fertile man is aspirated within a few hours postmortem… maybe even after 24 hours… just so we still have some twitching sperm... one could preserve such semen for months, if not years and then still use it for ICSI. It’s been done with mice.
FELIX: And you think that’s okay?
MELANIE: You asked whether ICSI fertilization with the sperm of a recently deceased man were possible and I said, yes. You didn’t ask whether it was OK.
FELIX: I am asking now! Would you use a dead man’s sperm and, I suppose, a frozen egg of a deceased woman to generate instant orphans?
MELANIE: No… I wouldn’t go that far.
FELIX: But somebody else might.
MELANIE: Kids need at least one parent… preferably two.
FELIX (Ironic): I’m relieved to hear that. (Pause). So who is the father?
MELANIE: There isn’t any father in the usual sense of the word.
FELIX: An immaculate conception?
MELANIE: You know… in a way that’s true. There was no penetration of the woman, no sexual contact. In fact, at that moment, there was no woman, no vagina… nor a man (pause)…. The only prick (pause)… was the gentle one by a tiny needle entering an egg in a dish, delivering a single sperm. (Laughs). Even that prick was provided by a woman. (Pause) If this ICSI injection works… and we’ll find this out in a couple of days… I want you to take the developing embryo, insert it into a woman… and then treat her kindly for the next 8 or 9 months until delivery of the baby.
FELIX: Where did this egg come from?
MELANIE: From me.
FELIX: What? Experiment on yourself?
MELANIE: Why not? It’s not as if there isn’t a tradition of self-experimentation in medicine. Who was it in malaria? Or was it yellow fever?
FELIX: Jesse Lazear. Yellow fever. (Pause). And he died from it.
MELANIE: I’d rather think of Barry Marshall. It’s a happier story. He’s the Australian who had to infect himself with H. pylori before anybody would believe that it’s the causative agent of ulcers. He got ulcers, but survived and got famous.
FELIX: He was dealing with ulcers. You’re dealing with babies. Some babies may cause ulcers, but most don’t.
MELANIE (With dismissive gesture): I’m not prone to ulcers. Why couldn’t these eggs (Points to the microscope) come from here? (Gestures toward her lap). What you saw on this screen came from me. And so did the other six over there… (Points to Petri dish).
FELIX: We should wait until we’ve established that ICSI works before using your own eggs? It’s bad science… adding an emotional variable. It’s crazy.
MELANIE: It isn’t crazy...it’s human. I’ll become a mother…and then famous.
FELIX: Melanie… we’re in this together. If you give birth, we publish together… and triumphantly. But if there’s no baby… or even worse, a genetically damaged one… where does that leave things?
MELANIE: Felix, you have two kids... and age doesn’t matter to you. You can have more. But my time is running out. Don’t forget, I didn’t freeze any of my young eggs. Every year I wait now increases the risk.
FELIX: All right…all right. But did you really handpick this lousy sperm? Why, for heaven’s sake? Why didn’t you go to a sperm bank?
MELANIE: I’ve been to a sperm bank—
MELANIE: Nothing happened. I just couldn’t deal with an anonymous sperm donor. Period. I wanted to know the biological father of my child.
FELIX (Sarcastic): You cannot deal with an anonymous sperm donor? You—who with ICSI—will have converted the average man—the donor of millions of sperm—into the provider of a single sperm? You—the mother of that intelligent New World as you called it not so long ago? And yet you have to know the donor of this bachelor sperm? What, may I ask, are you searching for in a biological father? Looks can be deceiving. What about health, for instance?
MELANIE: Overall health, even looks, may sound fine on paper… but there are also intangibles you only sense about someone: kindness, wisdom, savoir-faire, charisma… all kinds of personal things. In a sperm bank, you find sperm… not a man. With ICSI I can consider everything.
FELIX: I don’t see how you can. Or are you deliberately angling for an infertile man in your pool of potential fathers to prove the value of ICSI?
MELANIE: It’s not a question of deliberately angling. It’s just that you don’t have to throw such a fish back into the water.
FELIX: But that’s crazy! Why take such a risk?
MELANIE: Because that pool of potential fathers… as you so aptly called it … contained only one fish that interested me.
FELIX: And you caught him?
MELANIE: And what if I did? Remember… these are my eggs we’re injecting….
FELIX: This first attempt at ICSI fertilization must be science… it can’t be romance! Why is this man infertile? Have you looked into that? If there’s some genetic information we’re missing, you could give birth to who knows what.
MELANIE: When the time comes, I’ll take the necessary precautions.
FELIX (Vehemently): When the time comes? You have already used that sperm! As your clinical partner, I have the right to know the source of that man’s infertility! Most of the sperm were barely motile. Why? There may be all kinds of reasons for his manhood… if you permit a delicate phrase… to be incomplete.
MELANIE: Incomplete manhood! Oh you sensitive men! (Pause). But the answer is yes… of course, I know why.
FELIX: So what is it?
MELANIE: In due time—
FELIX: “In due time?” I want to know now!
MELANIE: I’m afraid, you’ll have to be patient.
FELIX: But I’m your clinician!
MELANIE: Exactly! At this point, we do not even know whether we have achieved fertilization. And even if we have, whether the embryo implants. That’s when you come in.
FELIX: And what precautions will you take?
MELANIE: Pre-implantation genetic screening of the embryo before transfer into me… and, of course, repeating it later by fetal screening.
FELIX: You can’t screen for everything. There are conditions where infertility in the donor is associated with serious genetic disorders in the offspring. Cystic fibrosis, for one. The odds are high there: one out of four.
MELANIE: I know all about that. You’re talking about men suffering from congenital, bilateral absence of the vas deferens. (Pause). You see, I can also spout medical mumbo jumbo.
FRANKENTHALER: Let’s not get technical right now. I’m talking about the principle of the thing.
MELANIE: And I’m talking about the technical principle: men with that condition have no sperm in their ejaculate. I can assure you that this man did ejaculate that sperm! I didn’t have to aspirate it.
FELIX (Angry): For God’s sake, Melanie! Many other factors can lead to genetic abnormalities... and if such a baby is born, you can kiss the whole thing good-by.
MELANIE: Kiss what good-bye?
FELIX: The ICSI paper. How will you justify sending it off if the result is some genetic... (Flustered pause)... oddball... or whatever?
MELANIE: Felix! We’re dealing with a potential life... not just a journal article! Besides… it won’t be sent off until the baby is born.
FELIX (Shakes head): And the man gave his consent to all that?
MELANIE: Deep down, I know he’d like to be a father.
FELIX: How deep?
MELANIE (Angry and loud): Stop it! This is not the time for such questions.
FELIX: This is a legal matter
MELANIE (Completely loses her temper): Shut up! I’m doing science… important science… and you’re spouting legalese. (Looks at her shaking hands). How am I expected to do the second ICSI now?
FELIX: I repeat! Did you get his consent?
MELANIE (Rips off gloves): I’m taking a break!
For a few seconds, FELIX looks grimly into space, then turns around and turns on video image, which again shows “dead” sperm seen earlier in scene. Suddenly reaches decision. Rushes to laboratory table, rummaging around (ostensibly looking for a condom). In desperation, he hastily grabs a fresh plastic glove and rushes off stage.
END OF SCENE 5
Scene 6. (Five minutes later). FELIX in surgical gown rushes into the lab, extended plastic glove (used in lieu of condom) in hand. Trying to open new syringe with one hand, he finally holds glove between his teeth while ripping off plastic cover of syringe. Quickly aspirates sperm from glove, drops a sample unto plate and places it under microscope. Turns on VCR. A new video image of very actively swimming sperm—quite different from “dead” sperm in preceding scene—appears on video monitor or screen. Puts on fresh plastic gloves and face mask.)
FELIX (Looks up, gazes satisfied at image for several seconds, then murmurs loudly to himself): Now that’s better!
(Mimes manipulation with the microscope while image of sperm capture
and subsequent injection into egg appears again on screen. At
appropriate moments speaks to himself, adlibbing along following lines)
Here you are, Melanie. Now let’s see what we can do with you. (Short pause). Relax, Melanie. I’ll be very gentle… it won’t hurt. (Short pause).
(Suddenly, MELANIE enters).
And now… bear fruit and multiply.
MELANIE (Sees on the screen image of sperm being injected into egg): Felix! What the hell are you doing?
(Startled, FELIX jumps up, in the process knocking over lab stool. Rips off
facemask and quickly reaches for glove serving as condom substitute.
Attempts to throw it into wastebasket but misses. Stands up to block
MELANIE’s view of microscope).
FELIX: I thought I might as well ICSI the next egg. I knew you were upset and feeling shaky…
MELANIE: Felix, we agreed that I would do the first two eggs, and if it went well, you would do the next two.
(Bends down to pick up glove from floor, but does not throw it into wastebasket).
And I wanted to observe your manipulation!
FELIX: To be sure that I do it as well as you? You know I had no problems practicing with hamster eggs. (Switches to conciliatory tone). Melanie… I’m really sorry I lost my temper earlier on. (Pause). But I guess some problems just take care of themselves.
MELANIE: I don’t think this is one of them.
FELIX: Why don’t we decide right now how many embryos to transfer back into you after we have injected the other eggs?
MELANIE (Fidgeting with discarded glove in her hands): For the first time around, let’s do two. The remaining embryos we’ll freeze.
FELIX: As you wish. I’ll just pick the two best looking ones.
(Quickly takes glove out of her hand and this time discards it successfully in wastepaper basket).
MELANIE: No! I want to do the choosing.
FELIX: But I’m an expert in choosing embryos. That’s why I’ve got such a high batting average in my IVF practice.
MELANIE: And that’s why I’m having you do the insertion. But I also know how to pick embryos and I want to do that now.
FELIX: I don’t understand.
MELANIE: This is the first time in history that a woman has inserted a sperm directly into her own egg. Why have a man… even a man like you… pick the embryos for her? You might pick the two you injected. Don’t you understand?
FELIX (Disingenuously): But why should you care whose hand was on the injection pipette? It’s still your own egg that’s being put back into you.
MELANIE: That’s not the issue. What I did was the equivalent of having sex and fertilization all by myself.
FELIX (Astonished): And you find that attractive? Some people would call it gross.
MELANIE: I didn’t say it was attractive. It’s just… a deeply emotional thing. A man wouldn’t understand.
FELIX: Look… as the ICSI scientist, you want to become famous.... That I can understand. But your hurry to become a mother is clouding your scientific judgment. That’s where I come in… your ICSI partner… to look at the situation dispassionately. Selection of the best embryos for transfer should be done without emotion…. After the injection pipette is withdrawn from the egg and fertilization has started … after ICSI has been completed… your role, as scientist, is over.
MELANIE: Oh, really? Who’ll write the paper?
FELIX: We’ll both write the paper. But otherwise, your Ph.D. is useless… you’re now a prospective mother.
MELANIE: That’s where you’re wrong! I’ll be a pregnant Ph.D.
FELIX: Still… choosing the embryo is where the transition from you to me ought to start. Don’t you trust me? (Pause). Come on, MELANIE! I’m your partner… by your own free choice.
MELANIE: I trust you.
FELIX: In that case, I’ll select the two embryos I consider best before transferring them… with loving care… back into you. (Pats her hand or other reassuring gesture).
MELANIE: Hand over the entire choice? No… I can’t. It’s not a question of trust… it’s a question of… (Pause)… what shall I call it? Emotional ownership. (Pause). But I’ll split the difference with you. I’ll pick the first one. And you can bet, it will come from one of the eggs I injected! Then I’ll let you pick the second.
FELIX (Reluctant): One embryo each?
MELANIE (Firm): A monumental concession on my part: one embryo each!
(They shake hands).
MELANIE (Approaches microscope): Great! Now that that’s settled, let’s finish ICSIing the other eggs.
FELIX (Quickly beats her to microscope): Can I continue with the next one since I still have some sperm here? You take over again with the fourth.
(Starts putting on rubber gloves)
MELANIE: Good idea.
FELIX (Bends over the microscope): But first let me catch a good sperm. Then you can turn on the VCR and watch me do the rest.
MELANIE: Stage fright? Nonsense! I want to see you catch it.
FELIX: (Disingenuously continues conversation while actually commencing work): It’s a man’s hang-up. It’s brutal enough crushing the sperm’s tail under the microscope without it being magnified and recorded. A woman wouldn’t understand.
MELANIE (Laughs): Poor squeamish Felix! You behaved the same way when I caught the first one. You thought I was “playing” with him.
All right… I’ll humor you. But the moment you’ve got that sperm in your capillary, I want to see the image on the monitor.
FELIX (Relieved, while focusing on his work under the microscope): It’s a deal. As soon as I get the little fellow into the capillary, you’ll see it all. (Pause while he manipulates joysticks). Here she is! Now you can turn on the VCR.
(Brief view of egg from earlier video appears on screen).
MELANIE (Enchanted): Another beauty!
(Long pause while image shows FELIX completing the sperm injection).
You did it!
FELIX: We did it.
END OF SCENE 6
END OF FIRST ACT
After Scene 6 at start of Act 2
Subject: Once more
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2001 09:42:04
Melanie—I may be an engineer, but I have started to hate all electronic forms of communication. I have no idea whether any of my recent e-mails ever reached you. I have received no replies, not even bounced messages. And when I tried to telephone, all I got was your answering machine. Hearing your voice—your very own voice—was hardly reassuring. I don’t even know when that impersonal message was recorded. No music, no kitschy message, just “This is Melanie Laidlaw. I’ll call back when I can.”
Did you get my last snail mail letter? I had hoped that you’d be pleased by the news.
I am leaving in a couple of days for the States on business. As soon as I get there, I’ll stop at your lab. (Do you realize that I don’t even have your private address?)
Subject: A favor
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2001 51:34:19
Felix, my dear midwife,
Physically, I feel marvelous, though so huge that I wouldn’t even mind a somewhat early delivery. But something else suddenly came up for which I need your assistance. Not as a clinical collaborator, but as a friend, which means that it is truly urgent and that I can’t ask anyone else.
Give me a ring as soon as you’re back in town.
Scene 7 (September 2001, Dr. Melanie Laidlaw’s laboratory; same setting as in Scene 6, except that teapot and cups are also visible). MELANIE, seven months pregnant, sipping tea, sits by table. FELIX enters, a transparent plastic bag of Chinese fortune cookies in his hand.
FELIX (Ebullient): A very good afternoon to you, Dr. Laidlaw. Your midwife read your e-mail and is now reporting.
(Kisses her on cheek and waves bag with fortune cookies).
What every pregnant woman needs in her seventh month: Chinese fortune cookies.
MELANIE: Is this a friend’s gift or a doctor’s prescription?
FELIX: Doctor’s prescription. Go ahead... try one.
(He looks on as MELANIE breaks one open, reads message, puts it down and starts to open a second cookie.)
You’ve got to eat it before opening another. And what’s wrong with this one? Is it text or taste?
(Shoves over paper slip).
FELIX (Starts reading proffered slip and laughs): I’ll be damned! “Your problems are too complicated for fortune cookies.” Let’s open another one.
(Quickly opens another, scans it, and then hands message to MELANIE).
MELANIE: “Fortune cookies are for the fools that buy them.” (Laughs). What happened to “Confucius says?” But why fortune cookies in the first place? Here I am, big as a blimp, 7 months pregnant... everything on schedule. We should celebrate… but not with this stuff. Laidlaw and Frankenthaler... three quarters toward the summit of ICSI.
FELIX: And no complications. From now on... getting up to the top doesn’t involve much science. Now all you need is a good doctor... like me... and a bit of luck.
MELANIE: Well, thank goodness. That explains the fortune cookies.
FELIX: So back to science. In the ICSI paper—
MELANIE; Which I have started to write—
FELIX: High time! We agreed not to disclose the identity of the egg donor in the ICSI paper.
MELANIE: It’s enough that you and I know.
MELANIE (Suspicious): But what?
FELIX: But by now… as co-author with my 7-months pregnant colleague, I’ve simply got to know the source of that man’s infertility. It’s got to be mentioned in the paper. I presume he’s on cloud 9, considering how few sperm of his I saw on the monitor. And now he’s about to become the first ICSI father in history! What did he say when you first told him?
MELANIE: He knows nothing. I haven’t seen him for months. He doesn’t live here. He lives in Akademgorodok.
FELIX: Where on earth is that?
MELANIE: In Siberia.
FELIX: You had an affair in Siberia?
MELANIE: I met him in Europe. And he’s married.
FELIX: That, at least, I suspected... otherwise you surely would have told me about him. But didn’t you say you had his consent?
MELANIE: I said, he once wanted to be a father. You want consent for one miserable sperm?
FELIX: Damn it, yes! I have a right to ask, at least in my capacity as partner in a potential crime.
MELANIE (Exasperated): Crime?
FELIX (Irritable): How did you get a sperm sample without his knowledge?
MELANIE: What’s the difference?
FELIX: Come on, Melanie. How did you get it?
MELANIE: On one occasion... I kept the condom.
FELIX (Openly sarcastic): And then you took it to the lab? Or did you have intercourse in the lab?
MELANIE: Don’t be ridiculous. (Pleading). Felix, why go through all this?
FELIX: If not for the sake of collegial courtesy, how about professional curiosity?
MELANIE (Resigned, yet impatient): All right. I brought a small Dewar flask in my toilet bag and dropped the condom in it.
FELIX: You stole his seed!
MELANIE: Felix! So biblical! Any lawyer would tell you that when he ejaculated in my vagina, it was an irrevocable transfer of title to property from a donor to a recipient. And there certainly was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request.
FELIX: Melanie, stop joking! This is serious.
MELANIE: Seriously then. How can I steal something that the owner considers worthless? (Dismissive). A used condom, for God’s sake. It was junk. Taking someone else’s garbage or junk is not theft.
FELIX: Junk and garbage are not the same. Junk is what you keep around. It only becomes garbage when you throw it away. In his body, a man’s semen is mostly junk, not garbage. You, of all people, a reproductive biologist, should know that.
MELANIE: Stop acting so clever! If my egg is injected with an otherwise infertile sperm under a microscope and then put in a Petri dish until cell division is confirmed, are you going to tell me that I’m now pregnant? Or that life has now begun? The egg has to be reintroduced into me, into my body... and it must implant in my uterus. Only then can we discuss the question of life. (Pause). Fertilization and pregnancy aren’t synonymous.
FELIX (Derisive): You don’t say! The entire abortion morality debate revolves around that issue… not to speak of stem cells.
MELANIE: And for me right now, it’s an issue of birth... not abortion. I’m speaking as a pregnant woman in her seventh month, who, let’s not forget, invented ICSI. It’s my method.
FELIX: Our method.
MELANIE: I beg to differ! ICSI, as a procedure, was developed by me in animal models. And you know perfectly well how many years that took before I even got ICSI to work in hamsters! Converting this invention into human reality, producing a baby, that’s our joint project.
FELIX: Okay, okay.…
MELANIE: So it’s my method that transformed his garbage...sorry, I should’ve said junk... into something that could be used. That’s not theft.
FELIX: There are other ways of becoming a mother. For instance, adoption. It would have been better all around... and ICSI would have remained science, clean and uncontaminated.
MELANIE: I’m not the adoptive kind… I’m possessive. I wanted my own biological child. (Pause). And then I met a man, who came out of the blue like a sexual angel... whom I could see as the biological father.…
FELIX: Why not beyond that?
MELANIE: Because he was married. (Pause). Because he considered himself infertile... and so did his wife. (Pause). So what should I have done?
FELIX: People are known to leave one marriage for another.
MELANIE: I know. That’s what he wrote recently: he’s getting divorced.
FELIX: What else did he write? Or was it just about the first snowstorm in Siberia. After all, it’s already September.
MELANIE: Felix, don’t be a wise guy. It doesn’t become you. (Pause). He wrote he had business in the States and is coming over here.
FELIX: To see you?
MELANIE: I guess so.
FELIX: Guess? But haven’t the two of you kept in touch since you saw each other last?
MELANIE (Guilty): We didn’t. I know it bothered him, but what could I do? How could I keep up a correspondence with a former (pause)... lover without mentioning my pregnancy?
FELIX: Now that he’s getting divorced, what will you tell him?
FELIX: But that’s absurd!
MELANIE: I want a baby of my own… and you call that absurd?
FELIX: Are you keeping him in the dark because you want the baby all to yourself?
MELANIE (Outraged): What alternatives do I have? Should my baby... my only biological child... commute between the States and Siberia? Or must I move to Akademgorodok? I can hardly spell the name of the city.
FELIX: Maybe the father could move to the States.
MELANIE: And what if he doesn’t?
FELIX: Would you have gotten yourself pregnant without him? Let me put it another way, because this is important for me. (Speaks slowly with emphasis). Do you just want a child or do you want his child?
MELANIE: His child, of course. Otherwise, why would I have selected his sperm sample? I admit that subliminally I may have been on the lookout for sperm. But every female does that... not just humans. With ICSI, I needed only one single sperm... but I had to know where it came from in the deepest sense.
FELIX: My God! Here, you are... about to achieve the creation of new life without sexual intercourse and yet you needed to acquire…that... single... precious... sperm through making love with a man!
MELANIE: To a man!
FELIX: “To” or “with”… what’s the difference?
MELANIE: A very big one! “To” is more decisive.
FELIX: And where did you learn that?
FELIX: I forgot… another talent of yours.
MELANIE: But whether “to” or “with”… I wanted a child more than anything else... even more than fame as a scientist.
FELIX: I guess, deep down, you’re the ultimate romantic scientist!
MELANIE: (Pleading tone): Felix, even if you disapprove... at least be fair.
FELIX: I’m trying my best.
MELANIE: You promised to behave like a kind midwife, not a prosecutor.
FELIX (Conciliatory): All right. So what do you want from me?
MELANIE: I can’t possibly face him alone... I simply can’t.
(FELIX gets up, tea cup in hand, slowly pacing up and down.)
MELANIE: When he sees me like this…(points to stomach) it has to be in neutral territory. (Irritably). Felix, stop wandering around. Sit down and help me.
FELIX (Sits down): What sort of help do you want?
MELANIE: I don’t want to hurt him when he comes this afternoon. (Glances at watch). He may be here any time. Just try to allude to my pregnancy in some subtle way.
FELIX: It won’t take him long to notice. (Points to her stomach)
MELANIE (Beseeching): Please! It would make everything so much easier. Obviously, he would assume that there is another man in my life.
FELIX: But why pick me? Because I’m the only one who knows? Have you never confided in anyone else? What about other women?
MELANIE: Women? I’m surrounded by people… but they’re scientists… and in this place, they’re mostly men. We talk about topics… we talk about problems… we talk about cases… and don’t get me wrong… I do it because I like it. But we don’t talk about ourselves. So will you help me... you, my midwife?
FELIX (Moved): I’ll give it a try.
(Sound of sharp knock at the door. MELANIE looks startled. Freezes).
FELIX (Whispers): Well?
(MELANIE goes slowly to the door just as there is a second knock and the door opens. VITALY, a bouquet of roses in his hand, and MELANIE nearly collide, surprising each other.
VITALY (Who has not yet seen FELIX, loud and joyous): Melanie!
(About to kiss her when he notices her pregnancy.)
MELANIE (Quickly): Vitaly, let me introduce to you to my friend, Felix Frankenthaler.
(FELIX approaches VITALY).
And this is Vitaly Slavsky, an acquaintance from Russia.
(FELIX extends his hand and VITALY in his confusion hands over the bouquet. A thorn pricks FELIX ‘s finger).
(He drops bouquet, which is retrieved by VITALY, who puts it on the lab table)
MELANIE: Vitaly, take a lab stool and join us.
VITALY: (Picks up lab stool but doesn’t take his eyes off MELANIE as he sits down). You look.…
MELANIE: ... very pregnant. (Pause). Here, have some tea... have a fortune cookie.
VITALY: Your face looks so different.…
MELANIE: You mean it’s also ballooned... like my belly?
VITALY: No, no... you look (pause)... I guess you look uneasy... and yet… what shall I call it? Luminously aglow.
FELIX (Tries to help Melanie): Do you have fortune cookies in Russia?
VITALY: What did you say?
FELIX: Fortune cookies... You break them open... They contain messages.
VITALY (Dismissive): Sure I know them. They’re like horoscopes. (Addresses Melanie ). What else have you been doing since...?
MELANIE: It’s been eight months. I guess a lot has happened to us both.
FELIX (Addressing VITALY): It won’t hurt if you try one. Here, let me break one open for you.
(Breaks open a fortune cookie and offers message to VITALY).
VITALY: You people buy these things?
MELANIE: I didn’t... I don’t believe in “messages.”
VITALY: So I gather. Neither do I.
(Takes the proffered paper slip, crushes it into a ball, and throws it, unread, into the wastepaper basket some feet away, but misses).
FELIX (Picks it up and deposits it in wastepaper basket): You need practice throwing trash.
VITALY: What? (Again turns to Melanie and studies her for several seconds). You have changed. Maybe I should call it “blooming.”
FELIX: We clinicians call it gravid.
(His telephone beeper rings, startling them all).
MELANIE: I would call it “bloated.”
FELIX: Maybe we better stick to his “blooming.” It does sound more attractive.
(Opens his cellular telephone).
Hello? Just a moment. (Turns to Melanie and Vitaly). Excuse me, but I’ve got to take this call. (Exits).
VITALY: So you’re pregnant.
MELANIE: I’m afraid so.
VITALY: What’s there to be afraid about?
MELANIE (Flustered): Nothing... it’s just a figure of speech.
VITALY: Sure, like “hopping into bed.” I’ve never forgotten that one.
MELANIE (Softly): Neither have I. (Then firmer). But yes... I’m pregnant.
VITALY: I’m sorry…. Sorry! I mean, I’m not sorry you’re pregnant. I’m sorry I didn’t know…. When do you…?
MELANIE: In two months.
VITALY: I wouldn’t have barged in—
MELANIE (Relieved, now takes initiative): You didn’t barge in. It’s good to see you again. You, at least, haven’t changed. Not like me (pats stomach). So what brings you to this part of the world? How long are you—
VITALY (Has not been listening): Is he?
(Gestures toward door through which Felix left)
VITALY: Is he the father?
MELANIE: Felix? (Laughs).
FELIX (Returns without knocking): Sorry, I had to take that call.
(Melanie and Vitaly both remain tongue-tied).
Should I leave you alone? I imagine you have lots to talk about… catching up with news—
VITALY (Quick): No, no… I just wanted to see how Melanie was.
(Again inspects her).
You do look great… (unsuccessfully, tries humor) gravid… and happy. I don’t want to disturb you people. (Looks at watch). It’s time I left.
FELIX: Why don’t you stay a bit longer? We’ve barely had a chance to talk.
(Turns to Melanie).
This phone call… (Taps pocket containing his cellular phone) was about a potential ICSI candidate. The couple is waiting over at the clinic. Why don’t you go talk to them? I’ll join you after our chat.
MELANIE (Reluctant): Felix….
FELIX: Don’t worry. I’ll take care of your friend. (Quickly walks over and kisses her on the cheek. Leads her to door).
(Turns toward Vitaly).
I’m always interested in Melanie’s friends.
(Looks him over before continuing)
I noticed your surprise when you saw Melanie pregnant. I thought you knew.
VITALY: Surprise is a bit of an understatement. (Pause, while he studies him). Do you know the father?
FELIX (Stalling, points to tea pot): Some tea?
VITALY (Motions “no” with his hand): So do you know him?
FELIX: Sometimes you can never be sure who the real father is. But I’ve met a likely candidate.
VITALY: What does he look like?
FELIX (Stalling, then starts to describe some of the facial characteristics of the actor playing Vitaly as well as of himself along following lines):
Let me think….
mostly straight black hair… some incipient graying… a bit like yours.
(keeps studying him)
I’d say his hairline is starting to recede….
(hesitates, pretends reflection)
sort of like mine.
(strokes his chin)
He does have a strong chin….
(Stops stroking his chin and looks up, miming amused surprise)
I guess again somewhat like mine. And… he seems to have a 5 o’clock shadow… or maybe it’s more of a stubble,
(Laughs awkwardly as he notes Vitaly stroking his chin bearing a visible stubble)
come to think of it… he looks a bit like each of us.
VITALY: How old is he?
FELIX (Pretends reflection): Oh, I’d say around our age.
VITALY: That old?
FELIX: Oh come. How old are you?
VITALY: Pushing fifty.
FELIX: Ancient. (Chuckles). Or let’s say, maturing?
VITALY: I defer to your better judgment.
FELIX: Melanie... she’s an interesting woman.
VITALY: I’d have said, complicated.
FELIX: That’s all? Just... complicated?
VITALY: To me, complicated covers a lot of terrain.
FELIX (Unable to restrain his curiosity): Where did you two first meet?
VITALY (Curtly): At a scientific congress. Melanie and I saw each other only for brief periods of time. When we did, it was… what shall I call it?
VITALY: I would’ve picked another word, but “heartbreaking” could serve just as well. Just when I thought I really understood her... when I thought I knew what made her tick... she... how shall I say it? She escaped.
FELIX: You’re right! She does that sometimes… she just withdraws. A curtain drops.
VITALY: No... “withdraw” is not quite the same. “Escape” is sharper... you stand less of a chance of getting her back.
FELIX: I thought you were good friends.
VITALY: Good? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her. For me, good friends confide in each other. But aren’t you a friend of Melanie’s? Actually (laughs awkwardly), I thought you were more than that. (Pause). I thought you were the father.
FELIX (Curious and flattered): And why did you think that?
VITALY (Studies him carefully): You looked at ease together... as if you had something in common.
FELIX (Eager): We’re partners... in reproduction. You might say we’re the parents of a procedure that will produce a baby within a couple of months. By the way, do you know what Melanie is working on... with me?
VITALY: We’ve never discussed her research.
FELIX: It’s very exciting, really. She’s found a way of taking one single sperm and injecting it right into an egg. The procedure is called ICSI. It stands for (pronounces slowly) intracytoplasmic... sperm... injection.
VITALY: Big words.
FELIX: For something very small: one little sperm.
VITALY (Intrigued): But isn’t that just in the laboratory? Or does Melanie’s ICSI work in the real world?
FELIX: Oh, yes...at least it does so far. It resulted in fertilization... under the microscope. And I was the one who transferred the resulting embryo... actually two embryos... into a woman’s uterus. Fortunately, one of them implanted... right at the first try.
VITALY: Why did you transfer two embryos?
FELIX: We do that in most IVF procedures for the sake of insurance... to be sure that at least one makes it.
VITALY: Go on.
FELIX: Of course, technically, the first ICSI baby is still a fetus, but Melanie is already thinking about future applications… for instance, when sperm with Y and X-chromosomes can be separated. Once that is possible… and since you need only one sperm with ICSI… you can order a boy using a Y-sperm and a girl with an X-sperm. What do you think about that?
VITALY: “Ordering” a boy or a girl? Is that Melanie’s ambition? (Wags his head). Just consider the mischief that would cause among the Chinese… or in India…. Parents would then have mostly boys.
FELIX (Backtracks): Perhaps I should have used the word “choose” rather than “order.” In any event, I was only describing the practical side of the coin… not the ethical.
VITALY: The two sides of a coin may be distinguished, but surely they can’t be separated. (Pause). But it all sounds so mechanical… injecting a sperm… choosing the sex of the child…. What else are you people going to think of?
FELIX: I’m surprised to hear you—a scientist—say that. (Becomes progressively more insistent). Why romanticize the act of conception? Why must we dress it up as (dismissive) “a mating dance between sperm and egg”? And why get upset that ICSI or other IVF procedures make that dance superfluous?
VITALY: It’s one thing if you use it as a treatment for infertility. But aren’t you talking about a procedure to be used by ordinary people?
FELIX: And why not? In the final analysis, we are only arguing about differences in delivery vehicles: penis versus pipette. And if you want to pursue this point—
VITALY: I’d rather not.
FELIX: Of course, some people feel that there are aspects of human life that should be off limits to science.
VITALY: You better count me among those people.
FELIX (Studies VITALY): By the way... do you have children?
VITALY: Why do you ask?
FELIX: A terrible habit... I’m the director of the fertility clinic here.
VITALY: Many years ago, I had a radiation accident... causing severe oligospermia. (Bitter laugh). That ended all questions of children.
FELIX: You shouldn’t be so categorical about that. The effect of radiation exposure on sperm is very rapid, but depending on the radiation dose... and on the time elapsed... sperm counts can recover.
VITALY: That’s exactly what the medics back home told me nearly 20 years ago. They were wrong.
FELIX: With all the recent advances in treating male infertility... and especially Melanie’s work—
VITALY: You mean it might work with me?
FELIX: It might... especially if your wife is fertile.
VITALY (Sardonic): She’s fertile all right.
FELIX: How can you be so certain? How would you know?
VITALY (Irritably): You’re asking too many questions... even for a fertility doctor.
FELIX: Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to be intrusive.
VITALY: You were telling me about Melanie’s ICSI.
FELIX: If Melanie’s procedure pans out... and we’ll know that in another two months...
VITALY: You say… you’ll know in two months?
FELIX: That’s when the first ICSI baby is due. ICSI is tailor-made for men with low sperm counts... like you. (Pause). Of course, radiation damage can cause other complications.
VITALY: I know all about that. I’m a nuclear physicist.
FELIX: In that case, I presume that even if ICSI were shown to work in a case like yours, you wouldn’t try it.
VITALY: Why do you say that? I’d take the chance...
FELIX: You would?
VITALY: You sound surprised.
FELIX: I’m a very cautious man when it comes to genetic risks. I’d strongly advise against it. As always, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
VITALY: As always? (Grins). On occasion, there is.
FELIX: Come now. Common sense will tell you there isn’t.
VITALY: Common sense, yes. But quantum physicists will tell you about the Casimir force, the pressure exerted by empty space. That’s certainly a free lunch.
FELIX: You lost me. What’s that got to do with ICSI?
VITALY: Nothing I was talking about free lunches. If you’re going to be accurate about your science, be so also in your clichés.
FELIX: Serves me right. But Casimir… or no Casimir…with sperm like yours—
VITALY: My sperm? Now where could you have seen that?
FELIX: … I said, sperm like yours. I know what sperm looks like after radiation exposure.
VITALY: What about Melanie? How worried is she about such risks? After all, ICSI is her baby.
FELIX: Sometimes, women are bigger gamblers than men.
END OF SCENE 7
Scene 8 (A few minutes later. Dr. Melanie Laidlaw’s laboratory, same as Scene 7). MELANIE opens the door, surprised to find VITALY waiting.
VITALY: We have some unfinished business.
VITALY (Points at her): How did you become pregnant?
MELANIE (Flustered): “How”? The usual process… a sperm penetrating my egg—
VITALY: Don’t you mean two sperm and two eggs? After all, weren’t there two embryos? (Pause). Was it ICSI?
MELANIE: How do you know about ICSI?
VITALY: I didn’t until a few minutes ago. Your friend with the fortune cookie… what’s his name? Frankenstein—
VITALY: Whatever. He explained to me what one can do with ICSI. I could hardly believe it. (Pause). So was it ICSI?
VITALY: You experimented on yourself?
MELANIE: It’s not unheard of in medicine… experimenting on yourself.
VITALY: Where did you get the sperm? A sperm bank?
MELANIE: Yes (Pause)… I mean No. I couldn’t.
VITALY: So… who‘s the father?
MELANIE: The father?
VITALY (Louder): Yes, the father!
MELANIE (Stalling): The father?
VITALY (Still louder): Yes, the father!
MELANIE (Completely loses composure): The father?…. The father?…. The father? (Grabs bouquet from table and thrusts it into his hands). You’re the father.
(Pause for information to sink in. Then explodes)
And you tell me this now?
(Throws bouquet on the floor)
MELANIE: How could I’ve told you earlier?
VITALY (Yells): I am the father and you have the nerve to ask,
(Attempts with falsetto to mimic her voice)
“How could I?” (Almost screaming). How could you not? In fact earlier… at the moment…
(Suddenly stops. Approaches her as if he were to do her bodily harm, causing MELANIE to flinch)
Wait a moment!… Wait! How did you get my sperm?
MELANIE (Reluctantly): I took the condom.
VITALY (Sarcastic): Ah yes… the condom! Your American obsession with safe sex! (Curiosity taking over; lowers tone). But what did you do with it?
MELANIE: I put it in a Dewar flask containing liquid nitrogen… after adding a cryoprotectant.
VITALY (Sarcastic): Of course, every American woman carries special antifreeze while traveling. It’s part of your Puritan heritage. But liquid nitrogen? You always carry that in your luggage?
MELANIE: Please, Vitaly...
VITALY: So everything was planned?
MELANIE: Not entirely. I didn’t know about your infertility when I took the condom.
VITALY (Loud): Were you just on a hunt for sperm… right from the beginning?
MELANIE: Please don’t demean our relationship.
VITALY: You accuse me of demeaning? You, who reduced me to the ultimate dimension… one puny sperm… and then kept it secret?
MELANIE: How can you say that? I acquired the sperm months after we first met.
VITALY (Screams): Acquired? Goddamn it… you stole it! And for what? An experiment? And instead of giving me the greatest gift anyone could ever give me, you hid it. (Voice almost breaking with emotion). Why didn’t you just ask if I wanted to be a father?
MELANIE (Voice almost breaking): Suppose you’d said “no?” I simply couldn’t risk that… I wanted your child… not some anonymous man’s sperm. So I chose not to ask.
VITALY: No! You chose not to tell!
MELANIE: Vitaly, wait. Please wait. How could I when I was faced with the fact of your marriage—apparently a solid one.
VITALY: Some marriage!
MELANIE: I thought that was forbidden territory… that pursuing our affair was as far as you could go… or wished to.
VITALY: That marriage was well on its way to dissolution…and now I’m divorced.
MELANIE: I’m sorry about your divorce—
VITALY: Sorry? You… of all people!
MELANIE: Divorce after any marriage is sad.
VITALY: Any marriage? What do you know about a marriage between a supposedly infertile man and a 40-year old wife who has always wanted to have a child? A wife, who, he discovers, has suddenly become pregnant?
MELANIE (Shocked): But that’s not possible!
VITALY (Bitter laugh): I forgot. You inspected my sperm under the microscope… And, of course, your ICSI hasn’t reached us yet in Russia. I know all about Immaculate Conception, but so far it hasn’t been all that frequent. (Pause) So how did she get pregnant?
MELANIE (Low voice): Another man’s sperm.
VITALY (Even more sarcastic): Brilliant deduction, Dr. Laidlaw. But (raises voice)… without her husband’s knowledge or consent! And that sperm was not delivered with one of your pipettes, but with an all too human penis. But enough of that. After all, it’s none of your concern. (Sits down). I came to tell you about my divorce and a lot more. But when I saw you pregnant…. (bitter laugh) I thought, what’s going on? Every woman around me is suddenly getting pregnant!
MELANIE: You think I should’ve told you then that you were the father?
VITALY: Yes! Yes! Yes!
MELANIE: Even though I thought you were still married?
VITALY (Explosively): What’s that got to do with it? The baby is also mine.
MELANIE: If we’re going to talk about the baby, we’ve also got to talk about his father—
VITALY (Sarcastic): High time! But what’s that got to do with my divorce?
MELANIE (Pleading): Vitaly. Please hear me out. When you wrote me about your divorce, I thought that your wife had discovered that we’d had an affair—
VITALY (Dismissive): That affair started over a year ago.
MELANIE: So what? It was an adulterous relationship and you know that I felt guilty about it.
VITALY: I told you then… and I tell you now: you had no reason to feel guilty. If there is a guilty party it’s me.
MELANIE (Stubborn): Adultery involves at least three people: two perpetrators and a victim.
VITALY: There was only one perpetrator… me… and no victim. A brief affair between two consenting adults. Evidently too brief to be converted into something more permanent. No one else was involved and nobody ever learned about it.
MELANIE: A man’s rationalization.
VITALY: Most of us rationalize our actions. I repeat, nobody was harmed and my wife… (bitter)… my former wife... does not know about you to this day.
MELANIE: That’s something to be thankful for. Yet you make it sound as if we just had a brief sexual affair and nothing more. Who’s doing the demeaning now?
VITALY: I didn’t say “brief.” I said it was “too brief.” That’s a big difference. But what is your point?
MELANIE: That affair led to long-lasting consequences. And that’s where I became the perpetrator, something that I have now openly admitted to you. I’ve never regretted it, though I’ve always felt guilty. So you see, there are three people. The third may not have been your wife—at least not in your eyes, though always in mine—but there is also the child.
VITALY: Exactly. And that’s—
MELANIE: Not yet! Why couldn’t you rationalize your wife’s extramarital affair in the same manner in which you rationalized what the two of us did?
VITALY (Explodes): Because she is pregnant, that’s why.
MELANIE: Is that the only reason why you divorced your wife? What if she had not become pregnant? Would you have forgiven her for her adultery?
VITALY (Reluctant): Probably not.
MELANIE: How typical.
VITALY: Typical? You think only Russian men respond that way to a woman’s unfaithfulness?
MELANIE: Let me rephrase it: how Biblical. Two thousand years ago, adulterous women were stoned whereas the same behavior in men was condoned…. Just take King Solomon. (Both stare at each other, silently). It’s ironic, isn’t it? Both affairs—ours and your wife’s—were related to a woman’s desire for a child before it’s too late.
VITALY: You still should’ve told me.
MELANIE (Defensive): I didn’t want to raise your hopes. I had no way of knowing whether any of your sperm was viable. Furthermore, ICSI had never been tried on a human egg. I had no assurance that the embryo would implant in my uterus. And even now… 7 months after that event… I still don’t know whether I’ll give birth to a normal child.…
VITALY (Sudden change in tone; concerned): Don’t say that! Don’t jinx it with all those “ifs” and “whethers.”
MELANIE (Breaks into tears): Thanks for saying that.
VITALY (Confused): Why?
MELANIE: You sound like a real father.
VITALY: I am a real father!
MELANIE: I always knew that.
VITALY (Mollified): How was I? (Catches himself). I mean… how did it feel?
MELANIE: How did what feel?
VITALY: Well…. Women often claim that they know when they get pregnant… that the earth shakes… that the world moves… or something like that. But you must have actually seen the moment. (Pause). Was it like sex?
MELANIE: No… not like sex. Ours was magical, but ICSI… how can I explain?… It was all-empowering.
VITALY: And you injected two eggs?
VITALY: And one is growing there? (Gently touches her belly).
MELANIE: Yes… a boy of yours.
VITALY (Moved, caresses her belly): Oh, Melanie… a son. (Embrace or other gesture of affection between the two). But tell me more… about ICSI.
MELANIE: Well… first, we injected your sperm into my eggs.
MELANIE: I did the first one… and Felix did the next two. Then I continued with the rest. And then we each picked one embryo and he transferred them back into me. One implanted… and now it’s growing.
VITALY: Why did he choose one? (Pause). And why did you let him inject your eggs?
MELANIE: He’s my partner.
VITALY: Okay. But did he do the second batch as well as you did the first?
MELANIE: I hope so. (Pats stomach)
VITALY: Hope? Didn’t you watch him do it?
MELANIE: Not his first injection. I was out of the room.
VITALY: What? You mean you weren’t even there while he played around with your egg?
MELANIE: Played around? Vitaly… it was science we were doing… not playing a game.
VITALY: Okay… okay. But whose sperm did he use?
MELANIE: Yours, of course. That’s all I had in my lab.
VITALY: And you trust him?
MELANIE: I have no reason not to trust him.
VITALY: Absolutely none?
MELANIE: There are very few things in life that are absolute.
VITALY: In that case, ask Frankenstein whose sperm he used.
MELANIE (Laughs): Stop calling him Frankenstein. But I can’t ask Felix. I was only gone for a few minutes. It sounds silly. Where would he have gotten it… on a Sunday of all days?
VITALY (Stubborn): I don’t know…. (Pause). Maybe it is silly. Call it the paranoia of an infertile man. Still… why don’t you ask him? (Pause). Do me that favor…. make it an early Father’s Day present.
MELANIE: Vitaly… I’d be embarrassed to ask!
VITALY: You’ve got more important things to be embarrassed about. Please! Ask!
END OF SCENE 8
Scene 9 (One week later, Dr. Melanie Laidlaw’s laboratory, same as scene 8). FELIX enters, carrying a cake with a single unlit candle.
FELIX (Singing): Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear ICSI, happy birthday to you.
MELANIE (Interrupts laughingly): Hold it, Felix! Whose birthday?
FELIX: This cake is for the ICSI paper. I went through your draft and my comments are so trivial, we might as well consider today its birthday.
MELANIE: Well… why not? But first let me see your (somewhat wary) “trivial” comments. (Reaches for the manuscript, but he does not hand it over).
FELIX: But there’s one non-trivial thing we ought to settle. Especially on the birthday.
MELANIE: What’s there to settle? It’s just the two of us. There are no other authors.
FELIX: But whose name comes first? We’ve never discussed that delicate question.
MELANIE: You think it was delicacy that kept me from raising that issue?
FELIX: So what was it?
MELANIE: To me, it was so obvious I didn’t think there was anything to discuss.
FELIX: Why not do it alphabetically?
MELANIE: Frankenthaler and Laidlaw? Out of the question!
FELIX: We could flip a coin.
MELANIE: We could… but we won’t! I come first, because I thought of the idea. And then I reduced it to practice. Furthermore, it’s my egg.
FELIX: You are not going to say that your name comes first because you’re the egg donor. In that case what about the sperm donor?
MELANIE (Laughs): You mean, add Vitaly’s name between mine and yours?
FELIX: Of course not.
MELANIE: Felix, my name comes first. I wrote the manuscript and not you. Is that understood?
FELIX (Grudgingly): Okay, okay…. Just kidding.
MELANIE: I’m not sure I believe that, but at least I’m glad to hear you say it
FELIX: In that case, let’s light the candle and celebrate.
(FELIX reaches in his pocket for a matchbox and strikes a match. At that
moment, MELANIE continues)
By the way, I never told you, but Vitaly now knows that he’s the father.
FELIX (Stares at her speechlessly until the match burns his finger. Stamps it out)
MELANIE: You look surprised. I told him the day you met him.
MELANIE: He was pleased… once the initial shock wore off. But there was one question he asked… admittedly a silly question… when I told him about the ICSI procedure.
FELIX: I bet I can guess.
MELANIE (Surprised): You can?
FELIX: He wanted to know what it felt like… when you injected the sperm.
MELANIE (Astonished): How did you guess?
FELIX (Somewhat dismissive): Most men would think of that.
MELANIE: Did you?
FELIX: Fleetingly… but mostly I was thinking of something else.
MELANIE: Do you remember what that was?
MELANIE: Would you tell me?
FELIX (Shrugs): Sure, why not?
MELANIE: What was it?
FELIX: I was still thinking of that miserable sperm when it suddenly surfaced on the monitor. I kept wondering what was so special about that mysterious man…. who had somehow managed to convert you… such a hard-nosed scientist… into a romantic.
MELANIE (Laughing): Felix! Don’t tell me you were jealous.
FELIX: I suppose I was. In fact, I still am.
FELIX: And nothing… that was it.
MELANIE: I also have a question. Can you guess that one as well?
FELIX: I’m through, guessing.
MELANIE: You can’t guess or you don’t want to guess?
MELANIE: When Vitaly first raised the question, it seemed so preposterous… some kind of male hang-up. (Pause). But now, I’m almost afraid to ask.
FELIX: So don’t ask. Some questions are best left buried.
MELANIE: But I promised Vitaly I would. (Walks toward him). Why didn’t you want me to see the sperm capture on the video? Whose sperm did you use?
FELIX (Rises and heads for the door): Melanie…if you have to ask that question, then surely you must know the answer. (Exits)
MELANIE (Long pause until full impact of remark sinks in): You bastard!
END OF SCENE 9
After Scene 9
Subject: Final request
Date: Thu, 06 Dec 2001 27:02:09
Melanie—I understand why you may be pissed off, but I MUST see you once more IN PERSON!
What is past is past. But while we cannot undo history, we can take some steps about the future. I do not wish to discuss this by e-mail, because this is a subject that we must resolve face to face. Each of us owes the other an explanation, but even if you do not wish to offer one, you owe me the professional courtesy of allowing ME to do so.
Subject: No subject
Date: Sat, 08 Dec 2001 51:34:19
HOW DARE YOU EVEN SPEAK OF PROFESSIONAL COURTESY?
The answer to your request is NO!
Scene 10. (Early December 2001. Dr. Melanie Laidlaw’s laboratory). MELANIE (now slender) and FELIX face each other.
FELIX: I don’t get it. Your baby is one month old and you still won’t—
MELANIE: Do I have to spell it out for you? I... do... not... want... to... see... you... again! (Pause). Ever! I have nothing to say to you! And now… get out!
FELIX: For heaven’s sake! Think about it! I had no choice.
MELANIE: What made you think you were entitled to one? We were dealing with my eggs, my body, my prospective child—
FELIX: But also our ICSI. (Pause). One minute before performing the very first injection... in history... you confronted me on the monitor with a sperm sample that only a naïve optimist or a lovesick girl would consider suitable. My injection was just as much for your personal benefit as for our success. Why can’t you see that it was an insurance policy?
MELANIE (Sardonic): And you the insurance agent not even informing me that I might be paying the premium? After deciding that your omnipotent sperm was just the ticket for me? What monumental presumption! And not the vaguest hint... until I’m thirty weeks pregnant! And only then when I asked you point blank. (Pause). When you injected your sperm into my egg without my knowledge or consent, you raped my egg. Do you want me to disclose that? Rape and lack of informed consent?
FELIX: An ICSI injection into an egg isn’t rape!
FELIX: Informed consent? Did you confide in the sperm donor what you planned to do with his miserable sperm?
FELIX: But you could have told him about ICSI.
MELANIE: What for?
FELIX: To find out whether after a radiation accident, given all the risks, he would’ve even considered such a method for becoming a father.
MELANIE: I didn’t want to take the chance.
FELIX: Well I did… right after you left us alone in your lab.
MELANIE (Sarcastic): I see! And if he agreed with you, you’d have taken it as indirect approval for your sperm substitution?
FELIX: Wouldn’t you have?
MELANIE (Sardonic): I gather he disappointed you. (Pause). And now get out of here!
FELIX: Not until you’ve heard me out. It was crazy choosing the sperm of a radiation victim. You weren’t just dealing with impaired fertility… you took genetic risks.
MELANIE: That’s why I insisted on screening the embryos before transfer... that’s why I went through an unprecedented second battery of genetic tests by the end of the first trimester.
FELIX: Well... you didn’t need them with me. How can anyone know whether those tests were enough?
MELANIE: With genetics, enough is never enough... not even now… with the entire human genome deciphered. But that radiation accident was 20 years ago… long enough for substantial recovery—
FELIX: Depending on the radiation dose.
MELANIE: Exactly! And which I checked out! (Pause). But wait a moment! Are you shedding all this genetic dandruff to tell me that I should gratefully accept my Ivan—the first ICSI baby in history—as yours?
FELIX: I wouldn’t quite put it that way.
MELANIE: So what way would you put it?
FELIX: Very simply. (Pause). I didn’t come to talk about parental rights... that boy is your child.
MELANIE (Sarcastic): How gracious of you. So what are you talking about?
FELIX: I want to know who belongs to whom—
MELANIE: You just admitted Ivan belonged to me... and to Vitaly.
FELIX: Damn it! Just... let... me... finish! I’m talking about paternity, about genetic information. Whose complement of genes does Ivan have? Only then will you know what Vitaly’s role was... if any. (Pause). Every reasonable scientist would take that position.
MELANIE: I would never have performed that ICSI experiment on my own eggs if it hadn’t been for Vitaly.
FELIX: This is bigger than romance, Melanie. I’m looking at this as the co-author of the ICSI manuscript.
MELANIE: Whereas I’m looking at it as the mother of a living child! If I were sure that my son came from your ICSI injection….
MELANIE: I couldn’t cope with that prospect… not while Ivan is still a baby.
FELIX: That’s your problem... and it has nothing to do with science. I came to request simple DNA analysis of the boy and the two putative fathers.
MELANIE: Putative? (Disgusted)... Putative? The word alone makes me want to puke.
FELIX: You can forget about that word the moment the DNA comparison is completed.
(Vitaly enters, a teddy bear or other toy in his hand. He stops by
the door, initially unnoticed by Melanie and Felix who continue arguing).
MELANIE: And I should approach Vitaly with such a request? What makes you think you’ve even got the right to raise such a question?
FELIX: Shouldn’t he know that there were sperm from two men? Don’t you think he’d want to know whether Ivan is his real son?
MELANIE: Vitaly knows what you did. But asking him to participate in DNA analysis is something completely different. (Pause). Out of the question!
Vitaly closes the door, startling both Melanie and Felix.
VITALY (Sardonic): What’s the fired midwife doing here? (Points to microscope). At the scene of the crime.
But what’s the argument about?
MELANIE: Wait! Felix was about to leave. Let’s talk about it alone.
FELIX: I’m not leaving. Not until he hears my side of the story.
VITALY: What’s he talking about?
FELIX: Ivan’s paternity.
MELANIE: Felix! Get out!
VITALY (Waves away MELANIE): That’s OK… let him finish. What sort of paternity are you talking about?
FELIX: The only paternity that counts.
VITALY: Ivan has a father....
MELANIE: And the law recognizes Vitaly as such.
FELIX: And who gave you that legal advice?
MELANIE: We don’t need legal advice. We got married before Ivan was born.
FELIX (Taken aback): I didn’t hear about your marriage. (Turns sarcastic). It’s the first recorded failure of the lab grapevine.
MELANIE: The name on his birth certificate is Ivan Slavsky.
FELIX: You’re talking about the name on a birth certificate. I’m talking about the pattern of a DNA gel.
VITALY: That’s all there is to paternity? DNA patterns?
FELIX: As far as this ICSI conception is concerned... yes. (Turns to Melanie). That first ICSI baby in history… your son—
VITALY: You mean our son—
FELIX: I beg to differ…. That still has to be established. Whoever the parents, Ivan will be followed up... all through his life. Melanie knows that’s a fact.… Once the ICSI paper has appeared, the genie is out of the bottle. (Pause). What if something turns out wrong with Ivan? Suppose he turns out to be infertile? Is that a genetic problem or is it the ICSI procedure? We can’t tell without DNA paternity testing? You seem to forget that before ICSI, men couldn’t inherit infertility… it was uninheritable!
MELANIE: Now it has become transmittable… because of ICSI!
FELIX (Angry): Didn’t you hear what I asked? If Ivan should prove to be infertile—
MELANIE: He can use ICSI. Like father, like son.
FELIX: But that’s a prescription for a treatment… not an explanation for the cause!
MELANIE: As you know better than anyone else… (sarcastic)… the moment our paper comes out, there’ll be a line of infertile men around the block of every fertility clinic clamoring to become ICSI fathers. I trust that none of them will have the misfortune of having the ICSI injection conducted by you… so there won’t be any doubt about genetic fatherhood. By the time the question of possible infertility in the offspring can be raised… a couple of decades later… there will be thousands of cases. The statisticians will have a field day without worrying about Ivan, unless (pause) ours was the first and last ICSI fertilization. Surely you don’t believe that?
VITALY (Dismissive, addresses Felix): You and your ICSI! (Pause). Let me ask you a very simple question: suppose we performed DNA analysis and you were shown to be the provider of that famous single ICSI sperm.
VITALY: Would you acknowledge Ivan openly as your son? Would you support him? (Quickly raises his hand). No! I withdraw that question. What I’m asking is... would you have Ivan live with you? (Throws teddy bear at him).
MELANIE (Outraged): VITALY! What are you asking?
VITALY (Waves her away, addresses FELIX): Well?
FELIX: No... I wouldn’t go that far.
(Bends down to pick up teddy bear from the floor and places it carefully on
the table next to the microscope)
VITALY (Dismissive, to Melanie): You see? Why argue? Paternity isn’t just the provision of a single sperm. It’s also a human relationship… between father and son. All the man wants is a DNA gel. Give it to him. He isn’t interested in the baby.
MELANIE: VITALY! I’m not arguing about a gel… I am talking about acquiring knowledge that I do not need right now as a scientist or as a mother.
FELIX: So, you’re prepared to ignore the circumstances of his conception?
MELANIE: Yes…yes! That’s a question that should only concern Ivan… when he’s grown up. We’ll take tissue samples...
MELANIE: Soon enough. But only Ivan’s and Vitaly’s... and have an independent lab perform the DNA analyses. No one will see the results... no one but Ivan.
FELIX: And if they don’t match?
VITALY: What’s the difference? I’m Ivan’s father. Whether his father is also the sperm donor and how important that is to him are questions that will only occur to him when he learns the facts.
FELIX: And when is that supposed to happen?
MELANIE: That’s for his parents to decide.
END OF SCENE 10
Scene 11. (Year 2014).
(Holds white envelope in one hand and a larger, brown manila envelope in the other)
What a birthday present! We were about to leave the party when they gave me these envelopes. Both my parents seemed nervous, which surprised me, because they’re not the nervous type. The situation sure turned serious when we got home. That’s when my mom asked me to open this letter.
(Lifts white envelope, which is torn open)
“I wrote it almost thirteen years ago,” she said. “I would have kept it for another five or six before showing it to you. I think you are too young for this.”
(Again lifts envelope)
Apparently, it was my father who convinced her otherwise. “I think you’re man enough to read what’s in the letter,” he said. And then he handed me this.
(Lifts brown manila envelope in other hand)
He said it contained two samples… DNA samples… and the results of their comparison. Results that no one had seen as yet… although the tests were run at mom’s insistence when I was still a baby.
I’ve never seen my father cry, but this time I saw tears in his eyes when he said, “Take your time, we’ll wait for you upstairs.” And then they left me with this… my birthday gift.
(Points to both envelopes)
I bet they’re worried. I’ve been here for at least half an hour… but I can’t go up yet. Mom was wrong: Thirteen is not too young to get this letter. (Pause). I’ve known for years that people call her, “the Mother of ICSI.” There must be tens of thousands of ICSI babies all over the world—kids that would never have been born if it were not for her work. I guess no one will ever know that I’m numero uno, because it says here (Raises white envelope) that they’ll never disclose my ICSI conception unless I announce it publicly. But what about that other man? Why did my parents think that I should know about him?
Mom says, “Some children in your situation—for instance, if their mothers went to a sperm bank—want to know who their biological father was.” (Raises white envelope). I don’t. (Pause). My mom didn’t go to a sperm bank and my situation can’t possibly be similar to anybody else’s. Furthermore, she’s convinced… that my Dad is my father. So if I open the second envelope and the two samples don’t match, does that mean my father stops being my father? I don’t want to change my father and there’s nothing I can do to change my genes anyway….
“Take your time,” he said. (Long Pause). But I can’t wait.
(Pause, while he drops white envelope and starts—perhaps with hasty clumsiness because of Scotch Tape seal—to open the brown manila envelope)
Not if I want to be a man.
(Takes out two longish X-ray strips, containing DNA patterns. First looks at one, then the other, then tries to line them up next to each other; finally superimposes one on top of the other and then—with back against the audience—holds it up against the light. As lights starts dimming, IVAN turns so that his face is visible through the X-ray film, which he then lowers slowly, showing a mixture of expressions: relief, shock, puzzlement… then BLACKOUT).
END OF Part 1 of Scene 11
Two alternative endings have been created for this play, which, ideally, should both be performed. A few seconds after the above Blackout, the lights shine on Ivan, who steps forward to the edge of the stage and addresses the audience:
IVAN: Suppose however that both embryos implanted in my mother’s uterus, rather than just one. Well… let’s see what might have happened then.
BLACKOUT (for short while) and then LIGHTS UP
Alternative Scene 11. (Year 2015). Same room as in first ending, but now with a table containing remnants of a birthday party, including some dishes and cutlery, notably some spoons. (IVAN and YURY face each other, IVAN holding a torn open white envelope in one hand and a larger, brown sealed manila envelope in the other).
YURY: That isn’t fair. It was for both of us! It isn’t just your 14th birthday.
IVAN: I am the older.
YURY (Dismissive): Sure… sure. By about two minutes. Now let me see it. (Reaches for the letter).
IVAN (Hides letter behind his back): I don’t think you want to read this… at least not yet.
YURY: Just give me the letter.
IVAN: Wait. Do you know what this (waves letter before hiding it again) is all about?
YURY: Give me the letter!
IVAN: Did you see how nervous Mom was?
IVAN: And then Dad. He had tears in his eyes.
YURY: I saw that. But he also told us that we’re both old enough to read what’s in the letter. So show it to me. (Tries to grab it, but Ivan resists).
IVAN: Wait! He also told us to take our time.
YURY (Angry and nervous). Give me the letter! It’s ours… not just yours.
IVAN: Do you know what DNA tests are good for?
YURY: What’s that got to do with the letter?
IVAN: Do you?
YURY: Wise guy! You think you’re the only one who’s had biology? Just because you want to become a doctor and I don’t?
IVAN: Answer my question.
YURY: They’re like fingerprints… only better. That’s how they catch rapists.
IVAN: Or show how someone is not one.
YURY: Okay. (Tries to snatch the letter away). Now give it to me!
IVAN: What about ICSI?
YURY (Stops in his tracks): You mean Mom’s work?
IVAN: Yeah. Remember the first time we heard it?
YURY: Overheard it. She was on the phone.
IVAN: And heard that I was numero uno.
YURY: That’s your story. What I heard her say was, “Ivan and Yury are numero uno.”
IVAN: How can there be two numero unos?
YURY: Because we are twins.
IVAN: But not identical ones.
YURY: So what?
IVAN: Meaning that we didn’t come from one ICSI injection… but two.
YURY: I know that. But we’re still twins.
IVAN: Are we?
YURY: Of course we are! Two eggs of Mom’s were injected—
IVAN: But not with the same sperm.
YURY: Dope! Of course not… you need a separate sperm for each egg. And you want to become a doctor? You better take some more biology.
IVAN: Yury… here. (Suddenly hands over letter). Read this.
(Yury grabs letter, sits down, and starts reading. In the meanwhile, IVAN starts playing with the brown manila envelope, testing how it is sealed, holding it up to the light to see whether he can see through the envelope, etc. with occasional side glances at his brother until Yury has finished reading. He sits shocked, staring straight ahead but not at his brother).
YURY (Clearly shaken): Did you know about that other man?
YURY: How come?
IVAN: I once heard Mom talk about him to Dad.
YURY: Why didn’t you tell me?
IVAN: Because… (falls silent)
YURY: Because of what? Tell me, Ivan!
IVAN: Because… (hesitates)… because I think he’s your dad.
YURY: What do you mean, he’s my dad. Have you ever seen him?
IVAN: No. But it says here (points to letter) that one of us has to be his son.
YURY: So why couldn’t it be you?
IVAN: Because I look more like Dad… especially my nose.
YURY (Touches his own nose): What’s wrong with my nose?
IVAN: It’s more crooked.
YURY: No, it’s not.
IVAN: Just take a look.
YURY (Looks around): There’s no mirror here.
IVAN (After looking around, walks to table, picks up a spoon and hands it to his brother): Here take a look in the spoon.
YURY (Grabs spoon and examines himself): I can’t see anything.
IVAN: Lick it clean and then look.
YURY (After licking spoon and examining his nose): It doesn’t look crooked.
IVAN: Try a bigger one.
(Goes back to table and picks a big serving spoon)
YURY (Grabs spoon and throws it on the floor): My nose isn’t crooked… and my Dad is my dad.
Long pause while the two boys look at each other.
IVAN (Picks up brown manila envelope): We’ll know soon enough.
YURY: You’re going to open it?
IVAN: I don’t know. What do you think?
YURY: I’m scared.
IVAN: You know what that means? (Points to manila envelope). We aren’t twins… we’re only half-brothers.
YURY: Wait a moment! If we don’t open it, won’t each of us still think that Dad is our dad?
YURY: Then we’re still twins.
IVAN: Go tell this to your biology teacher.
IVAN: Should we open it?
IVAN: Forget about the other man?
IVAN: I can’t.
YURY: Even if your nose is straighter?
IVAN: I was just kidding, Yury. But I’ve just got to know.
YURY: I don’t want to know. Do you understand? I don’t… I don’t.
YURY (Reads from letter): Mom says here, “We’ll never disclose your ICSI conception unless one of you announces it publicly.”
IVAN: But what about that other man? Why did they think that we should know about him?
YURY (Continues reading from letter): “Some children in your situation—for instance, if their mothers went to a sperm bank—want to know who their biological father was.” (Looks up at Ivan). I don’t.
IVAN: I guess we’re different. I must know.
YURY (Angrily): Why? If we open the second envelope and my DNA sample doesn’t match with Dad’s, does that mean my father stops being my father? I don’t want to change my father and there’s nothing I can do to change my genes anyway….
IVAN: I can’t wait.
(Starts tearing open the envelope, but Yury pounces on him and they start fighting. Yury manages to get hold of the envelope, runs to corner of the room and tears it to pieces. For a moment they stare at each other, exhausted. Suddenly, Yury starts crying, eventually almost hysterically. Ivan walks over to his brother and embraces him. They hug each other).
IVAN: Take it easy, Yury. I’ll always be your brother. Nobody can take that away.
END OF SCENE 11
Epilogue: Spotlight focuses on VITALY, dressed as Phoebus Apollo (Roman sun god) whose face may be hidden by a mask. [Vitaly’s words are excerpted and partially paraphrased from Ovid's METAMORPHOSES, (transl. by D.E. Hill, Aris & Phillips, Ltd., Warminster, Wilts., 1985) Book 1, lines 751 - 775 except for the last stanza, which comes from Book II, lines 36 -43 & 90 -98.]
Once, Phaeton’s brother, past endurance, said:
"You are insane to trust your mother wholly,
you have a false and inflated notion of your parentage.”
Phaeton blushed, his shame suppressing his anger,
he brought his brother's insults to his mother:
"This taunt shames us both
because it could be said and not refuted.
Give me a token of my origin."
It is uncertain whether Phaeton's mother was moved more
by his prayers or her anger at the spoken accusation.
"It would not be a great task for you to know the lineage of your father.
If your spirit moves you, go question him face to face."
Upon such words from his mother, Phaeton at once
sprang up in joy and set forth to seek his father.
"Father," he said, "if you let me use that word,
give me proofs of my birth and take away this confusion from my mind."
His father told him to approach closer.
"Look, gaze into my face. You will not be rebuffed.
I give sure proofs by my fear,
my fatherly alarm proves my fatherhood.
But it's punishment you ask for, Phaeton, not a favor."
CARL DJERASSI, novelist, playwright and professor of chemistry emeritus at Stanford University, is one of the few American scientists to have been awarded both the National Medal of Science (for the first synthesis of an oral contraceptive) and the National Medal of Technology (for promoting new approaches to insect control). He has published short stories, poetry (The Clock runs backward) and five novels (Cantor’s Dilemma; The Bourbaki Gambit; Marx, deceased; Menachem’s Seed; NO)—that illustrate as “science-in-fiction” the human side of science and the personal conflicts faced by scientists—as well as an autobiography (The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas’ Horse) and a memoir (THIS MAN’S PILL: Reflections on the 50th birthday of the Pill).
During the past eight years he has focused on play-writing, initially of “science-in-theatre” plays. The first, AN IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION, premiered at the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was subsequently staged in London (New End Theatre in 1999 and Bridewell Theatre in 2002), San Francisco (Eureka), New York (Primary Stages), Vienna (Jugendstiltheater), Cologne (Theater am Tanzbrunnen), Munich (Deutsches Museum), Berlin (Gorki Theater group), Sundsvall (Teater Västernorrland), Stockholm (Dramaten), Sofia (Satire Theatre), Geneva (Theatre du Grütli), Tokyo (Bunkyo Civic Hall Theatre), Seoul, Los Angeles (L.A. Theatre Works), Lisbon (Teatro da Trindade), Singapore (Singapore Repertory Theatre) and Detroit (Hilberry Theatre).The play has been translated into 11 languages and also published in book form in English, German, Spanish and Swedish. It was broadcast by BBC World Service in 2000 as “play of the week” and by the West German (WDR) and Swedish Radio in 2001 and NPR in the USA in 2004.
His second play, OXYGEN, co-authored with Roald Hoffmann, premiered in April 2001 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, at the Mainfranken Theater in Würzburg in Sept. 2001 through April 2002 (as well as in Munich, Leverkusen and Halle), at the Riverside Studios in London in Nov. 2001, and subsequently in New Zealand (Circa Theatre, Wellington), Korea (Pohang and Seoul), Tokyo (Setagaya Tram Theatre), Toronto, Madison, WI, Columbus,OH, Ottawa, Bologna (Italy), Bulgaria (Sofia, Satire Theatre) as well as many other German and American venues. Productions in Portugal (Porto, Seiva Trupe) and Glasgow are scheduled for 2005. Both the BBC and the WDR broadcast the play in Dec. 2001 around the centenary of the Nobel Prize—one of that play’s main themes. It has so far been translated into 10 languages and has already appeared in book form in English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Korean.
His third play, CALCULUS, dealing with the infamous Newton-Leibniz priority struggle, has already appeared in book form in English and German, with Italian to follow in 2005. Staged rehearsed readings were held in Berkeley (Aurora Theatre), London (Royal Institution), Vienna (Museum Quartier), Munich (Deutsches Museum), Berlin (Brandenburg Academy), Dresden (Semper Oper) and Oxford (Oxford Playhouse). A full production opened in San Francisco (Performing Arts Library & Museum) in April 2003, with the London premiere following in the New End Theatre in July 2004 and productions in 2005 in Dublin (Trinity College) and Cambridge (ADC Theatre). A musical version (composed by Werner Schulze and directed by Isabella Gregor) opened in the Zurich Opera Studiobühne in May 2005. His first “non-scientific” play, “EGO,” premiered at the 2003 Edinburgh Festival Fringe; its themes are further explored in “THREE ON A COUCH,” which opened in London (King’s Head Theatre) in March 2004. A German translation has already appeared in book form and has been broadcast by the WDR in June 2004; its Austrian theatrical premiere is scheduled for October 2005 and a major German tour (Landgraf) for early 2006. The London premiere of his fifth play (“PHALLACY”) with a science vs. art theme occurred in April 2005 at the New End Theatre and then transferred to the King’s Head Theatre in May. The West German Radio (WDR) will broadcast a German translation in early 2006.
In addition, he has started on a series of “pedagogic wordplays” to be used in schools in lieu of lectures. The first, “ICSI-Sex in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction” has been published in English, German, Chinese and Italian and performed in schools in the USA, Germany, Austria and Italy. The second, “NO,” written with Pierre Laszlo was published in 2003 in English, German and French.
Djerassi is the founder of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program near Woodside, California, which provides residencies and studio space for artists in the visual arts, literature, choreography and performing arts, and music. Nearly 1500 artists have passed through that program since its inception in 1982. Djerassi and his wife, the biographer Diane Middlebrook, live in San Francisco and London.
(There is a Web site about Carl Djerassi’s writing at http://www.djerassi.com)