Most Valley homes lack basements, so it would seem that the name of Phoenix's newest alternative theater group, which performs in gallery spaces, is playing on the term "underground." But Theater In My Basement, the brain child of local playwright Chris Danowski, really did begin down in the cellar.
Danowski first started toying with the idea of staging his own performances when he was living in an apartment in Minneapolis. He heard about similar do-it-yourself events going on in New York City, but just didn't have enough space to put on his own play. So when Danowski got the opportunity to move into a tiny house with a basement, he jumped at the chance to have his own built-in performance venue.
"It's hard to get plays produced," he explains. Working with small groups of dedicated people, Danowski started hosting Theater In My Basement shows in 1999. His in-house dramas continued until he moved back to his hometown of Phoenix in August 2001.
My Mouth Is Filled With Babies is the first production of Theater In My Basement's "Southwest Annex," Danowski's locally based experimental group formed with director and "co-conspirator" Ilana Lydia, whom he met during a theater project in Portland, Oregon. Lydia founded Arizona Contemporary Theater in 1990 and had similar thoughts about starting something new.
The performance that came out of their collaboration is a feverish exploration of parenthood, from the pregnancy-induced paranoia of mom-to-be Leona, played by Sarah Le Duc, to the nightmarish child-rearing jitters of her husband Leo, played by Franklin Cerne. Their ordinary lives quickly take a turn for the surreal as labor approaches, and there's no turning back.
Danowski readily admits that his own experiences right before and after the birth of his daughter -- primarily sleep deprivation -- inspired the characters' hallucinatory visions and their dialogues with The Guest, a sometimes ominous, sometimes hilarious character. Played by Eric Reid, The Guest walks the line between the supernatural and the subconscious, lecturing the curious unborn child Gitanes, played by Krystal Galindo, and taunting the parents through their restless nights.
My Mouth Is Filled With Babiesis partly a tribute to Danowski's daughter, but it also is an auspicious piece for the group's inaugural run. "We figured that since we were starting a theater company, we should do a play that deals with birth -- for luck," says Danowski.
Danowski is optimistic about the scene in Phoenix. "I'm meeting a lot of people with similar sensibilities here," he says. He also hopes to find a way to foster communication between the area's small theater groups so everyone can grow artistically. As a friend of his in the Minneapolis theater scene always says, "There's no such thing as too much theater."