Baby With The Bathwater at Prospero Theatre

Laura Mahler as Helen and Mike Davidovich as John in Prospero Theatre's Baby With The Bathwater. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.

The newborn in Christopher Durang‘s nasty and funny Baby With The Bathwater (Prospero Theatre, at the Friends Meeting House, 1725 Grand Ave in St. Paul, through June 26, prosperotheatre.org) is relentless.  It cries in the morning, it cries late at night, it wets, and poops, gets hungry and fusses, then cries some more, until finally its wildly brittle mother Helen is rolling on the floor, clutching her head, screaming, “Make it stop!”

Ah, parenthood.  Anyone who’s been there will identify.

Durang is the master of insane logic.  Given his premise – that this world is utterly bizarre and it’s impossible to raise a sane child – it makes complete sense for parents Helen and John to wax hysterical, pop ludes, swig raw vodka and fight like weasels.  Of course Nanny is a nymphomaniac and the naturally the woman upstairs has allowed her baby to be eaten by the family dog.  Is it any wonder that Helen and John’s son Daisy is, well, confused?  As long you don’t expect this play to be anything but nasty, wicked and frightening, you will have a great time.

The Prospero cast is (for the most part) young and one has to forgive a certain inexperience and over-earnestness.  But not that much, really.  Under MaryLynn Mennike‘s firm and fast-paced direction (this is not a play where one wants to savor nuance), the actors all do good work.

As Helen, Laura Mahler drives the play.  She segues quickly and insanely from sweetness to rage to jealousy to cynicism to catatonia.  She has that mysterious but, for this piece, essential quality: she’s funny.  Mike Davidovich takes a while to get started as John but he becomes an excellent drunken foil for his deranged wife.  Good performances are also given by Jane Hammill as the mad Nanny (Hammill brings a much-needed maturity to her part), and by Andrew Eckhardt as Daisy.  Also excellent are Sarah Howes and Sara-Marie Reinke in multiple roles.  I don’t have space here to discuss the whole ensemble; everyone is good.

This is, to put it mildly, shoestring theater.  In their first production, of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, Propspero found room in the budget for four (as I recall) lighting instruments.  Here there are none.  The company performs Baby With The Bathwater with a minimal set under the houselights (actually not bad) of the meetinghouse space.  Also, I’m obligated to mention that the theater lacks a/c.  But, please, don’t let all this stop you.  As we’ve been taught by Ten Thousand Things: actors can fill a raw space.  The Prosperians are good and the Durang play is gorgeously perverse.

Recommended.

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