Anna Bridgforth as Suzanne Bachner in the authour’s autobiographic The Good Adoptee

As the live stream in the US did not suit my Greenwich meantime schedule, I welcome the recording of Suzanne Bachner’s one woman show The Good Adoptee on YouTube. It is the story of her own search for her birth parents after having been matched with her family as the “cutest little baby in the adoption center” at eleven months. The adoption date four months later become the birth date on her birth certificate and her matched family where inserted as parents on it. Nothing on it can be verified by anyone, as Suzanne (or not Suzanne back then) was the only one present. Looking back, she feels like she was never born; her life did not begin at birth, but when she was adopted. Growing up, stories of the stork bringing babies left a foul taste: If she were indeed picked up, does that mean she could be returned? Was there a discount for health issues and flaws?

It has rained prizes for The Good Adoptee – here are a couple

Suzanne grows up not asking many questions about her early life story, and she does not rebel. But as an adult, planning to marry soon, she is being prompted more and more by doctors for her family’s medical history and cannot answer anything. Like many in her situation, she starts her search. The adoption agency assigns a social worker to her, whose communication styles are more than questionable, especially when reminding Suzanne repeatedly that the files about her are not hers but the agency’s. Her file having been lost (correction: “misplaced”) delays any hope of success. But at this stage, Suzanne cannot un-know that a file of her exists. Pandora’s box is already open, and she continues. Patiently. Her wait is illustrated by the options of having an identical twin, being suddenly related to another religion and much more. When the file appears, what shared with her could not be more sterile and hurtful: The pieces of “pseudo information” allow not even her own middle name to be shared with her as it is “too identifying”. Nothing to be verified anywhere. Suspicions arise when there is no insight into her birth parents’ medical history. And so Suzanne and her fiancé head to the birth index centre at 42nd Street in New York City (have I seen it in the documentary Three Identical Strangers?) – it is not uncommon for those looking to bring a “search angel” along. Painstakingly slow they go through files, and midway Suzanne wonders if she actually exists and stops browsing the files for a while, only to start again at a later point. But when you are excited about the opportunity of being related to someone without conflict and maybe even to look like someone for the first time… how valuable then is an unthankfully common lead by the name Smith in reality?

Hands up: Who did not have the smiley Fisher Price phone, Anna Bridgforth is holding?

With this needle in the haystack, Suzanne creates an adoption search identity and makes herself findable on all online platforms. She gets in contact with big names in the thriving American adoption search industry: Self-described adoption hunters, private investigators and reality TV personalities. Even when engaging with them, she assures she does not appear “desperate or pathetic” to anyone, and of not getting into a conflict of loyalty with her family. But even the professional searchers call her case desperate; Suzanne is offered to appear in one’s currently ghost-written autobiography as an unsolved case – to make her case more public. By the time she gets in contact with actual relatives (who ask her to communicate only through a lawyer), years of searching have passed and Suzanne has come across many limitations of language for her situation (“Mamma Two”), nature vs. nurture debates, hooray-for-DNA-tests, coexisting dual identities and indeed parents reaching out to children they gave up to warn them about cancer risks running in their family.

A story is rarely more personal, but despite the intimate topic and all the tragedies and frustration it has a very healthy amount of laugh-out-loud humour; prizes The Good Adoptee received were among others Best Autobiographical Script and a tour stop at the London International Fringe Festival in 2016. It feels simply authentic and believable and so does each of Suzanne’s lifelong efforts not to become bitter and ignorant.

Suzanne Bachner is involved in several projects and initiatives advocating adoptee rights. Can you imagine sharing a personal piece like this with the world and then see it being performed by someone else? Anna Bridgforth’s stage presence (she is also a burlesque artist) is incredible in these 70 minutes of monodrama, not needing more props than a bunny costume and a Fisher Price telephone. She switches fluidly from character to character and carries all voices and their emotion effortlessly by her tone alone – I am tempted to have the recording run again just acoustically as an audio play and am sure it will work as well. As a play in many, many telephone calls.

Authour and protagonist Suzanne Bachner

***** out of 5 stars

The Good Adoptee, written by Suzanne Bachner, is currently available to watch on JMTC Theatre’s YouTube channel.

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