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Baby with the Bathwater

Also see Sharon's review of Jesus' Kid Brother

There's bad parents, and then there's John and Helen, the parents at the center of Christopher Durang's Baby with the Bathwater. John and Helen aren't intentionally abusive of their child, they are just clueless about even the most basic things about parenthood. And I'm talking basic here. Things like how to determine you baby's gender with a quick look under the diaper. Or that it isn't really a good idea to give your baby quaaludes and Nyquil. Or that you don't get your baby to stop crying by yelling, "Shut up baby!"

John F. Schaffer is perfectly convincing as John, the well-meaning father who allows his wife and everyone else to steamroll right over him. Schaffer's John sometimes has moments of clarity when he knows what has to be done for the well-being of his child or his marriage, but then he's distracted by something and the thought is lost. Schaffer gives John a deer-in-the-headlights look, and his innocence makes John seem like another victim in the play, rather than one of its villains.

If there is anything sympathetic in Helen, actress Clare Meehan hasn't found it yet. The best that can be said for Helen is that she has a bad case of post-partum depression that lasts for upwards of twenty years; the worst is that she's just plain nuts. Meehan is at her most convincing with the comedy in Helen's insanity - when she snips, "It's a very grouchy baby; we're not very happy with it," Meehan nicely captures Helen's comic misunderstanding of the parent/child relationship. She's less effective when Helen goes on a raving tirade - perhaps because it's hard to know whether to play it for laughs or tears. But when Helen rants at, or about, her child, Meehan's performance is not entirely believable. She creates neither a flat-out lunatic who needs to be institutionalized nor a comic figure deserving of our derision.

The real beautiful performance comes in the second act, when we are introduced to the child (who turns out to have been a boy, despite John and Helen's failure to investigate matters) as an adult. Scott Vinci plays Daisy completely seriously. We meet Daisy through various sessions with an off-stage psychiatrist during which he recounts memories from his childhood and tales of the ways in which he is currently messed up. And Daisy is messed up, no doubt about it. But Vinci's performance is quiet, understated and honest, and as a result, he is completely believable as the product of the unbelievable childhood we know he had. There is still comedy in this part of the play, due in part to the running gag of the psychiatrist cutting Daisy off anytime he has a breakthrough, but mostly, Vinci invites us to look at the sad situation in which this young man has found himself.

This isn't a three-person play. Daisy's life story is populated by various characters living in that not-quite-real space in which Christopher Durang likes to write. Susan Berger plays a ridiculous British nanny who magically appears when Daisy's parents need her the most, and Berger's performance nicely conjures up Mary Poppins if she drank too much. Deborah Dowicki is a little too milquetoasty as a teacher who is troubled by one of Daisy's essays and attempts to bring it to the attention of the principal. Sabrina Addams, as the principal, does an excellent job of powering past the teacher's protestations while focussing on her own life - a little more speed in her performance and she might go into full farce.

Durang's play is an odd little piece - comic and absurd, yet still with a purpose and a heart. 3KO Broadway Theatre Company finds the play's heart, but not quite all its comedy.

Baby with the Bathwater runs through November 15, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at the Sidewalk Studio in Toluca Lake. Tickets are $15. For reservations, call Elena St. John at (818) 629-2342.

3KO Broadway Theatre Co. presents Baby with the Bathwater by Christopher Durang. Directed by David Michie. Produced by Erik Hill. With Sabrina Addams, Scott Vinci, Clare Meehan, Christina Diaz, Susan Berger, Deobrah Dowicki and John F. Schaffer.

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Sharon Perlmutter

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