Mother always wanted a girl -- or a best seller

Baby With the Bathwater

By Christopher Durang
Directed by David Barba
BloodOrange Productions
Sanford Meisner Theater
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler

Serious farce is a difficult thing to pull off. Sometimes speed is the best way -- who cares if some of the jokes get lost as long as the sense of anarchy is achieved, a glorious sense that the absurd can be (or should be) real.

For BloodOrange’s production of Christopher Durang’s Baby With the Bathwater, director David Barba chose instead to linger on each individual absurdity. While this gave some of his cast a chance to glory in silliness and slop around in jokes like pigs in mud, it fragmented an already fragile play that has little interest in anything but anarchy. The result was the destruction of a play that can barely stand up at all if there’s time to think about it.

Not that there isn’t anything to think about. Helen (Mary Catherine Donnelly) and John (James Pellerito) baby-talk to their new offspring, and argue in typical Durangian spurts. They’re too polite to see if the baby is a boy or girl (guess they don’t ever change its diaper); Nanny (Cheryl Monroe) distracts Helen with pencil and paper -- Helen’s always wanted to write a novel. Nanny and John go to the kitchen to fool around. A pregnant Chinese woman (Susan Kim) sings to the baby; Helen, John and Nanny end up in bed together.

Meanwhile, baby (finally named Daisy) is kidnapped; returned; Nanny is banished; Chinese woman is hit by a bus. Helen wishes she’d written Scruples. (Does anyone actually remember Judith Krantz? Couldn’t they have substituted The Nanny Diaries?) Having the Chinese woman read Mommie Dearest to the baby at least had some bite, and Kim delivered her lines in a funny deadpan.

Helen of course is spectacularly unsuited to raising Daisy, who, it later turns out, is a boy after all. Daisy in a laundry basket, or just lying there when admired by others ("It’s willful," Helen says of the baby’s non-interest) becomes tedious without a production point of view. Judith Greentree made her own fun as the Principal at Daisy’s school – obvious non-sequiturs were funny as she delivered them.

But the serious aspects of the play didn’t register in the muddle. Daisy (Barba) has to come to the realization of his sexuality on his own, and discover who he is. Barba played this for pathos, but it got lost – as director he either couldn’t settle on a tone or didn’t know he should choose one. Pacing was also a problem – over its 2-1/2-hour length this delicate play often turned tedious.

Another problem was shrill performing. Durang’s lines don’t come across well when shrieked, and what farce survived was scattered and scatter-shot. So kudos to Monroe as Nanny, who brought a sense of sureness to what she was doing, even if it didn’t help raise the production’s quality. The ending, with Daisy (now Alexander) and his wife and baby, suggests that all the previous craziness is meant to build up to a meaningful finale, but as presented here there was no sense of why this play is worth producing. The good lighting (Matthew Alar), sound design (Dave Marcus), and colorful costumes (Oana Botez-Ban) were all for naught.

Also with Karen Dundas, Carolyn Capaccio, Ana Andric, Charles McCown, and Allison Moran.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2004 David Mackler