Baby with the Bathwater
By Christopher Durang
Directed by John Boyce
Brisbane Arts Theatre
Season: January 16-February 20. Bookings: www.artstheatre.com.au or 3369 2344.
Christopher Durang’s play is a weird and whacky, dark comedy about an incompetent and totally brainless couple who are trying to bring up baby. They are so incompetent that they don’t know whether baby is a boy or a girl (they can decide later they claim their doctor told them). They name the child Daisy.
To help them enters Nanny, the Mary Poppins from Hell. Like Mary, she magically appears but then proceeds to abuse the baby and the parents and takes Father to bed. Arguments ensue; a strange girl enters the house and takes away the baby and a dog because her own baby had died.
Luckily for the couple the girl gets hit by a passing car and the baby is returned.
When the child grows up he realises he is a male, despite wearing a dress for much if his life. He has years of psychotherapy and at the end becomes a father and shows us a glimpse of hope in his blighted world.
It is a play that is totally absurd, rather than absurdist; it has some hilarious lines and very odd characters. The opening to Act Two has an “audience member” taken on stage and there in nightmare mode is accepted as an actor in a variety of roles from Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and Noel Coward.
The poor bewildered man is brilliantly played, I don’t know who by because the program didn’t specify roles, but this is the funniest and most proficient part of the play, although I have no idea how it related to the plot.
Another scene was with three women watching their badly behaved toddlers at play in a playground. I have seen the play before, ten years ago, and remember that as being hilarious. It was still funny, but the comic edge was lost with too much anger and shouting.
Much of the humour in the play tended to get lost.
It is not an easy play to perform. It needs experienced actors with good comic timing and a complete understanding of what they are doing.
The Arts Theatre is always willing to take a gamble in production, which explains its quality and diversity; some gambles work some don’t.
This is one that didn’t.
Artistic Director John Boyce, according to the program, took 13 students from his Level Two acting course and tossed them onto the main stage under his direction in this play. The aim of this course is to prepare students for a break into mainhouse productions, which is a great idea, but I felt that to put all the inexperienced players into the one play was a mistake.
The pace was slow, lines were blown several times; there was a lot of over-acting and, particularly among the female roles, a lack of projection. Many lines were spoken from the upper register and so there was a lot of high-pitched shouting in an attempt to get volume.
This, I found was grating and almost impossible to hear.
In fact when the strange girl steals the baby I didn’t understand a single word she said, and I wasn’t the only one. Her words were gabbled, swallowed and had no projection at all.
It was a brave attempt by the students concerned but not an auspicious start to 2016 for the theatre company.