When it comes to almost magical technology that can drive a play's plot, some things don't spring immediately to mind. Baby monitors, for example - those devices only a step removed from walkie-talkies and a few more from cell phones - that let parents hear their baby in another room of the house couldn't possibly make an effective centerpiece for a play, could they?
Judging by Jude Albert's new play The Baby Monitor, the answer is a resounding "maybe." But your enjoyment of this show at the Midtown International Theatre Festival isn't likely to be too severely hampered by an inability to believe that baby monitors are capable of picking up signals from nearby buildings or even cell phone conversations. Perhaps they can - I don't have much personal experience with them - but Albert makes the comedy and characters surrounding the devices convincing enough to dispel most technical qualms.
What's more amazing is that Albert is able to wring a full 75 minutes of solid material out of a topic that many sitcoms or sketch comedy shows would probably quickly run into the ground. Granted, there's not a tremendous amount of depth to the resulting writing, and the characters and situations are fairly broadly drawn and performed, but none of this prevents The Baby Monitor from working as at least a temporarily diverting comedy.
The play centers on two couples, Kevin and Darlene (Brad Alperin and Lori Russo) and Linda and Mark (Elyssa Phillips and Michael Morano) - both are new sets of parents living in adjoining houses. Kevin and Darlene discover one day that they're able to hear Mark and Linda over their baby monitor, and become as interested in following their lives as they might a soap opera. But when their own lives start sudsing up, thanks to Kevin's affair with Laura (Mary Trosclair), also revealed by the baby monitor, things quickly take a turn for the worse.
If the play proceeds in a fairly predictable fashion, with the secrets of the couples' eavesdropping escapades finally coming to light and all four eventually meeting, there are at least a good many laughs and twists and turns of plot along the way. Director Marc-Anthony Thomas uses the limited stage space of the WorkShop Theatre Jewel Box efficiently, though the usually smooth-moving action occasionally seemed to be marred with delayed entrances or missed cues at the opening night performance. Hopefully, this will get cleaned up as the run continues.
Russo and Morano give the most interesting performances: she scales the heights of postpartum depression silliness and he's thoroughly believable as a new father frantically trying to keep his relationships together with the two most important women in his life. Phillips, bringing more than a touch of Fran Drescher to her role, sometimes pushes too hard, but is always quite funny; Alperin is saddled with the least inherently interesting character, and misses out on some dramatic opportunities that Kevin's philandering and subterfuge might otherwise allow. Trosclair is fine but generally undistinguished in her somewhat underwritten role.
If you choose, you can look at The Baby Monitor as a warning about technology driving people apart as easily as it brings them together, with the ubiquity of devices such as baby monitors and cell phones being both a blessing and a curse to modern society. But it's probably better to accept the play as little more than an escapist comedy about parenthood and marital strife in the present day - that's all The Baby Monitor aspires to, and at that it succeeds well enough.
Midtown International Theatre Festival