Think you’re a bad parent? Scared of what to expect when you’re expecting? A viewing of Baby with the Bathwater by What If? Productions will make you feel much better. An absurdist comedy written by Christopher Durang, the play tells the story of two new parents — not quite right in their own minds — who try to raise their new baby.
Introducing the play to the audience, director and What If? Productions co-founder Kyle Barnette described the show’s bizarre nature, warning that logic and reason would be “completely thrown out the window.” He was not exaggerating.
With scenes and dialogue that can only happen in a theater, Durang’s style begs viewers to suspend any notion of disbelief — something that is essential to an enjoyable viewing of the play. The writing is imaginative and ludicrous, but the adept cast handles it in stride, bouncing from one digression to the next.
The piece opens with new parents Helen (Beth Curley) and John (Jay Danner) interacting with their newborn baby Daisy at their home. It only takes a few lines from each to realize these two may not be up to the job of child-rearing. After John is admonished by his wife for calling the baby “Daddy’s little baked potato,” for fear that the baby may grow up to think it is indeed a baked potato, the parents refuse to check the sex of the baby, instead believing they have a week to decide what gender it will be.
In these opening scenes, as the two new parents try to figure out how to care for their baby, their demeanor varies wildly between calm and sympathetic to shrill and antagonistic and everything in between. The actors do well in oscillating seamlessly between such moods, and their digressions are often humorous and beyond reason. When Helen starts thinking of a name for the baby, she embarks on a quick monologue beginning with family names as suggestions and ends up somehow with “it’s really hard to find a doctor.”
After its abundantly clear that Helen and John are in no way fit to raise a child, a Nanny, played by Andrea McGinn, appears from out of nowhere. A parody of Mary Poppins, she is instead distinctly Irish and a bit more hostile than the P.L. Travers character. In absurdist fashion, the Nanny doesn’t do much to help as she shouts at the baby “Shut up!” or drops it carelessly back into its crib.
The Nanny also features as a foil to whatever morals Helen and John do have, arguing that right and wrong are needless social constructs. To this end, she cites other works of literature such as The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. However, her best argument against morals is a pantomimed summary of the theory of evolution, which is worth the price of admission alone.
With the nursery in disarray as the parents and Nanny sleep, a crazed woman named Cynthia (Victoria Vaughn) also enters unannounced. She proceeds to help care for Daisy, reading Mommie Dearest to her in a hyperbolic tone.
The second half of the play details moments of Daisy’s upbringing through adulthood, including a trip to the park where she lies on the ground instead of playing with other kids while her mother Helen shouts at her. In the final scenes, Jeremy McLellan must also be recognized for his captivating monologues in his role as a “Young Man.”
The set is small but brightly colored, mimicking the shrill nature of the comedy. Barnette and his crew also inserted into the set specific items that foreshadow the impending horror — and coping mechanisms — of raising a child: a set of blocks spells out ‘LSD,’ while a bookshelf displays several bottles of liquor half-hidden in children’s toys. The distinct neck of Grey Goose bottle juts out of a stuffed yellow duck.
As an absurdist play, Baby with a Bathwater can be challenging to follow. The plot events occur without reason. It is also difficult to sympathize with the characters on stage. However, in presenting a character’s responses to such unfathomable events, such as Daisy’s processing of her entire childhood in the second act, the play is an intriguing — if farcical — exploration into the stresses of raising a child. I’m just glad they cast a doll as baby Daisy.