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OCC Cast Has Fun Bringing Up Durang's Ill-Spirited 'Baby'

June 22, 1989|MARK CHALON SMITH

Babies. There seems to be a lot of them on the streets these days, in sparkling strollers, cooing with Buddha faces. Young couples are crazy about them, and everybody's having more of them.

Some say we are in the midst of a new baby boom. And why not? Babies are super--a perfect addition to the well-rounded twosome looking for that extra something. It's only natural.

Unless you're in a Christopher Durang play.

Having a baby is the height of unnatural behavior in "Baby With the Bathwater," Durang's 1983 burnt offering to parenthood. This satire--given a sometimes shrill but funny staging by director John Ferzacca at Orange Coast College--is no happy stroll through the maternity ward. It's more like open-heart surgery--without anesthetic.

We first meet Helen and John (against David Scaglione's set of outsize alphabet blocks, looking as if they could crash down at any moment) as they peer lovingly into the basinet. Oh, what a wonderful baby! What a perfectly delicious and wonderful baby!

But soon enough, the doubts seep in. It's a cute baby, but why does it cry so much? How do you get it to stop? What is it , anyway, a boy baby or girl baby? Does it seem to have a strange look on its face? Does it look insane to you?

John and Helen (effectively spooked performances by Paul Klees and Debbie Grattan) begin to dread Baby. Completely confounded (they determine Baby's sex only after it reaches its teens), they seek the help of Nanny, a bonkers nurse with an S/M streak. Nanny (Marcie Ross) torments Baby with unsafe toys and crazed behavior, demands sex from John in the kitchen and crawls into the couple's tiny bed with both of them. It's all very Duranged.

Adding to this sick stew is a young woman (Ellen Buckley) who tries to kidnap Baby after her own infant is--steady now--eaten by a pet dog. The woman, however, is run over by a bus while making off with Baby, leaving Baby with an ugly memory that turns into a bus obsession by adulthood.

Needless to say, this bus thing is only one of Baby's hang-ups. Finally named Daisy by John and Helen, Baby is revealed to be a boy who, until his 20s, wears a dress and stumbles through a maze of gender confusion. He has sex a lot too--more than 1,700 partners before he's 30.

"Baby With the Bathwater" may seem like a long journey to make an obvious point--that bringing up baby is no small task and one that shouldn't be undertaken by nuts--but it gains momentum through the sheer spitefulness of Durang's effort.

Like Jonathan Swift (whose classic anti-social satire, "Gulliver's Travels," figures prominently in the play), Durang is a writer with little sympathy for humanity. This uncompromisingly nasty focus (at least until the end) leads to a few startling truisms.

But "Baby With the Bathwater" does have weaknesses, the most pushy being the sweetly buoyant conclusion, in which Daisy (a witty portrayal by Rich Jackson) and his girlfriend have their own baby and vow to be good and responsible parents.

That's a great message, but it's not necessary to slam it home, especially after the point has already been made so obviously. In his 1983 review in The Times, Richard Eder economically summed up the ending's troubles: "It seems a pity to throw the baby away in the bathos-water."

Yes, but up until then, it's an acid bath all the way.

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