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Baby is humorous, entertaining, vicious

Baby with the Bathwater
Presented by the MIT Community Players.
A vicious comedy by Christopher Durang.
Directed by Stephen Kelsey.
Kresge Little Theater.
March 13 and 14, 8 p.m.

By William Chuang
Arts Staff

Baby with the Bathwater is exactly what it advertises to be -- "a vicious comedy" where writer Christopher Durang manages to poke fun at just about everything. In this case, everything runs from male/female relationships, married life, escapism, child care, hospitals, poverty, and callousness to lesbianism, female superiority, drunkenness, college, general aimlessness, parental resentment, early marriage, and more. This is not to say that Baby isn't funny. It is, provided you take it lightly and in stride. But afterwards you may find yourself thinking about those same topics in light of your own experiences and it may start you wondering. Older audiences may find the play slightly unsettling. But if you have a group of friends and are in the mood for a night of satire and sarcasm and "vicious comedy," get some tickets to this play.

Just before the play opens, the audience gets a good look at the prop adorning the stage -- a large mural of a happy couple holding up their baby, somewhat reminiscent of the 1950s and a visually pleasing and reassuring backdrop. Helen (Andrea McGimsey '87) and John (Derek Clark '89) come on stage as a young couple with their first baby. However, as the play progresses this couple acts less and less like the idealized family in the mural.

At first, Helen's fears seem somewhat normal for an excited young mother: when John calls the baby his "little baked potato," she reacts violently, saying that such phrases will cause later mental problems for their child. More problems appear, as the couple debates which sex the child is, and since Helen wants a girl, a girl it is! Financial difficulties plague John, as he has recently been laid off and is unsure of how to re-enter the job market. In the midst of all this, the young baby starts to cry, and neither Helen nor John knows how to soothe it or croon to it (though the lyrics John attempts to sing are quite hilarious).

But wait! Who should step in to aid our confused parents? The Nanny (Betty Whyte), of course, who scares the baby silent (and startles the audience as well), seduces John, and convinces Helen to write a bestseller, all within a few minutes. Another tempest ensues after John reveals his infidelity to Helen. But everything settles out and Nanny becomes an uneasy part of the household.

Of course, more must happen, and one night Cynthia (Danielle L. DiDio) wanders in; she is a poor woman whose hungry dog ate her own young baby one night, and who has now taken a liking to John and Helen's baby. In a sudden fit, she steals the baby and runs off with it and her dog! John and Helen go off after her, and while Cynthia is running away from them, she is hit by a bus -- but the baby drops between the tires and escapes unscathed (John performs his duty by kicking the dog before another oncoming car)!

The second half of the play is just as interesting and biting. The audience is introduced to Angela and Kate, two other women with young children; the Principal (Gail Phaneuf), an extremely aggressive woman with an overdone female superiority complex; and Miss Pringle (J.B. Sweeney), a teacher who is worried about her young charge. Miss Pringle cares for good reason: "Daisy" (the child) runs at buses, hoping to get run over, and believes she is a baked potato!

But "Daisy" (Craig White '93, listed as the "Young Man") isn't really a girl; John and Helen were just confused, and they now have a much more confused son (daughter). His confusion lasts throughout his college years (of which he spends 7 as a freshman and 6 as a sophomore); years of psychiatric therapy begin to scrape the surface of his mental anguish and chaos. Eventually, he forces his way through the disarray (mostly), gets married to Susan (Heather Wages '95), and they have a baby! Hopefully though, they will treat their child better than his parents treated him; though we never find out.

The set is a fairly bare one -- a mural/wall of a happy couple and their baby is the main backdrop. Other props include the bed (a site for interesting occurrences), a bench for the playground scene, a table for the principal's office, and a cute pile of laundry with legs sticking out as the young Daisy (innovative, indeed). Despite the few props, there is no problem with knowing where the scene is played. The music and other sound effects had to be piped in through external speakers; it may seem slightly confusing at first to hear a baby cry from everywhere around the stage.

Several of the characters in this vicious comedy do particularly good jobs. Andrea McGimsey imbues Helen (the mother) with an on-stage intensity that reminded me of Sarah Connor from Terminator II, at times violently angry and drastic, but placid at others. As John, Derek Clark gets wonderfully browbeaten by his wife, is completely unmotivated to be a breadwinner for the family, and just lounges around, confused and unhappy, all of which gets across very well. The Nanny has an intriguing Irish accent which she uses to good advantage, both in the scenes themselves and in the speech she makes. I was very impressed by the Principal's performance. She does an excellent job of performing her entire part, with a hilarious interpretation of "female superiority." And last but not least, the "Young Man" is perfect as the grown-up "Daisy" (played by various dolls in her earlier years!), staying with the difficult soliloquy of his psychiatric therapy, and conveying his anger at his parents and the world.