In the preface to a collection of his plays, author Christopher Durang fondly recalls the famous I Love Lucy episode in which Little Ricky is born. This show prompted Durang to pattern his first play, written in the second grade, after the story. Since this work isn't publicly available, it's impossible to know what designs Durang had for Little Ricky. But we can hope it was a happier life than the one the playwright envisions for the bundle of joy in Baby With the Bathwater.
The play is set in that peculiar place that can only be described as the World According to Christopher Durang. Normal behavior is meaningless, and characters fling themselves around the stage with no motivation, or play out Durang's ritual of victim and abuser.
Baby With the Bathwater, the first production by the new Eureka! Theatre Company, is performed with somewhat less enthusiasm for black humor than the material suggests. More over-the-top acting would have sent Baby straighter on its course.
Anyone who has seen Durang's 1979 one-act Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You knows the playwright is out for blood; he doesn't bring up Mommie Dearest references idly. Victimhood for Durang is close to sainthood.
Lots of people were offended when Durang took on the Catholic Church with the ruler-wielding Sister Mary Ignatius, but Durang had sensed the Zeitgeist. The victims were out there. Theatre audiences who had once been hit by rulers themselves found relief in the play's onstage catharsis.
His vision isn't so clear, though, when Baby With the Bathwater substitutes motherhood for the Holy Mother Church. The misogyny of this 1983 play grates on the nerves. When the victims are men and the oppressors women, what exactly is Durang up to?
Baby With the Bathwater starts out with a couple of screwy parents, John and Helen. At first the laughs are a little iffy, because John and Helen seem intent on destroying each other. Helen wants a handsome, blond husband who will support her and Baby until she becomes a famous novelist, while John has already shown fondness for the bottle. They yell at one other, throw Baby about and, once Nanny--no relative of Mary Poppins--arrives, settle down into a menage trois on the sofa bed. A woman creeps into the apartment and, while an offstage dog barks, tells the trio how her German shepherd ate her baby. The second act is skimpy on substance, and takes Durang into more meaning than his humor can support. Baby--who happens to be a boy--has grown up to wear a dress and go by the name of Daisy. Is this just more funny business or a real indictment of his controlling mother and the other crazy women in his life?
Daisy tells his psychiatrist that he's slept with approximately 1,700 men and women, but why the absurdist Durang would see this as a problem is hard to say. Once we've laughed at dogs eating babies, sex addiction can only bring chuckles.
Nanny is allotted a preponderance of the pithy sayings, and at one point, she declares, "There's no right or wrong! Only fun!" But in Baby With the Bathwater, Durang decides not to take his own advice. He straightens out Daisy and marries him off so he can be the proud father of his own baby.
Is this what happened to Little Ricky? I hope not. Lucy Ricardo--and even Durang's mother from hell--tries a lot harder to make us laugh than Daisy does.
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