BWW Review: BABY OH BABY Premieres at the Whitefire
Baby Oh Baby/A new British comedy/by Phil Scarpaci & T.L. Shannon/directed by Phil Scarpaci/Whitefire Theatre, Sherman Oaks/plays Saturdays at 8 pm, through June 4
Playwrights Phil Scarpaci and T.L. Shannon are from opposite sides of the pond. Scarpaci is American and Shannon, British. When they wrote their world premiere play Baby Oh Baby, they decided to make the setting England, as the British are expert farceurs and know a thing or two about delivering comedy. Surprisingly, the play projects a very contemporary perspective on artificial insemination...and becomes quite serious midway through its 80 minute playing time. Not to say that a serious topic cannot be funny. Of course, we must laugh at everything, but sometimes the topic deserves a bit more exploration at the core, and frivolity is not always the best way to handle it. Now onstage at the Whitefire on Saturdays only, at 8 pm through June 4, Baby Oh Baby has a terrific cast who make the material rise off the printed page with a nice entertainment high.
Bella (Amy Tolsky) lives in a flat near London with her younger sister Angie. Bella owns her own mate matching business, which she does from home at the computer. She is middle aged, single and wanting dearly to meet someone. She frets about her weight and looks, so does next to no dating. Angie (Felicity Wren), though a bit younger, is in the same position, romantically....but plays around a lot. Most of her dates are one-night stands. As the play opens, a one-night stand Rory (Andrew Katers) is scurrying out of the apartment and yells to Angie that he will meet her later at an ice-cream parlor. When we see Angie later on, she has been stood up by Rory and is in a deep depression about her life. Angie and Bella are obviously close, and have been able to comfort each other in their hours of need. Neighbor Weena (Douglas Scott Sorenson), a flamboyant gay man, is almost like a third sister, popping by the apartment quite regularly and offering his take on finding and losing men, and on promiscuity in general.
The core of the plot comes into focus when Bella tells Angie that she met this guy Chris (Kaelan Strouse) in front of a gay bar. In fact, she tripped over him; he cushioned her fall. They talked a bit and really got to like one another. In fact, Bella has invited Chris over and asks Angie to vacate the living room for a few hours. Angie, more concerned about her date Rory, has decided not to go out looking for him, but to stay home. When Chris comes by, he brings with him one very big surprise. Just before his entrance, Weena has come by and offered Angie some advice on her female predicament. He has suggested that she freeze her eggs and prepare for artificial insemination. Well, lo and behold, Chris turns out to be an inseminator, and Bella has decided to let him do his thing with her on this very evening. But with Angie's curiosity and interference, she decides to be inseminated, to the dismay of Bella. This is as far as I care to go with the plot. If motivated, you will have to see the rest for yourselves, as I do not wish to offer any spoiler alerts.
Under Scarpaci's even direction and pacing, there are a lot of laughs throughout, and the comedy works deliciously, primarily because of the actors' engaging performances. Tolsky, always a comic gem, is right-on perfection as Bella. She makes her the strong, independent woman, who is frumpy, overweight and a bit envious of her sister, the pretty one who always attracts/gets the guys. Wren is a joy to watch as insecure Angie. She and Tolsky have great chemistry together, and so the whole sisterly thing works beautifully. Sorenson is sheer delight as Weena, the queen who just opens his mouth and gets a laugh. Andrew Katers makes the seemingly womanizing Rory a three dimensional character with spunk and integrity, making the most of his scenes. Strouse has the most difficult role as Chris. We learn about him through Bella's conversation with Angie and have certain expectations, some of which do not coincide when we actually see him. I found his orientation and demeanor a tad perplexing, but be assured that since Baby Oh Baby is a comedy, nothing is ever as it seems.
Baby Oh Baby as a production is in its initial stages. In a talk back after the show I attended, it was made clear by writer/director Scarpaci and his ensemble that they are still searching and progressing week by week with the script. The main problem I have involves the topic of insemination. I wonder whether it wouldn't play better as an American comedy with serious overtones. As is, one becomes engrossed in the insemination issue of the two sisters, and then the ending seems to throw it away, toss it off with too much frivolity. Whatever, it's a fun night out , and the actors will surely please.