BWW Review: From the Mouths of Babes: Paula Vogel's AND BABY MAKES SEVEN at New Ohio Theatre, Now Through 4/12
The New Ohio Theatre and Purpleman Theater are mounting a revival of Paula Vogel's 1984 play AND BABY MAKES SEVEN.
Anna and Ruth have developed an unusual way of coping with the stress of impending parenthood. The lesbian couple at the heart of Paula Vogel's AND BABY MAKES SEVEN have created three imaginary children to keep them company in their tiny New York City apartment, which they already share with their gay friend Peter, the baby's father. There is Orphan (a feral runaway, raised by wolves and inhabited by Ruth), Cecil (a nine-year-old genius, inhabited by Anna) and Henri (a tiny Frenchman, purportedly from The Red Balloon, and also inhabited by Ruth).
Their personalities are gloriously haphazard and should provide a satisfying duality of tone: these ridiculous fictional children played against their more subdued parents. But identities begin to shift and bleed and suddenly-just as the pregnant Anna looks about ready to pop-Orphan, Cecil and Henri are running wild, showing up at all the wrong moments, and Peter has had enough. So, Ruth, the most enthusiastic participant in the imaginary game, makes a decision. The children must go, but they deserve a proper send-off. "We're going to tidy up the plots," Ruth announces. "No loose ends dangling. Starting tomorrow. We're going to kill them. One by one."
But as so often happens in real life, careful planning does not always guarantee a successful outcome.
The children rebel against their tragic fate, and the trio must reckon with their collective past. The demise of the children isn't just the end of a game, it's the end of something personal, something intangible. Which parts of yourself do you get to keep when you have children? And which parts have to die?
In this revival, Susan Bott is nimble as Ruth, Orphan and Henri; her performance of Orphan in his death throes is a comedic treat. Bott provides a good foil for Constance Zaytoun's pragmatic Anna and Ken Barnett's sweet but perplexed Peter, who is always a step behind all the fun. The players greet Vogel's challenging theatrics with relish, but Bott, who certainly carries the largest load of personalities, really brings Henri and Orphan (poor, rabid Orphan) to exhilarating life.
The clever set-with it's half-hearted swipes of paint, mismatched furniture and dart board featuring the face of former NYC mayor Ed Koch-suggests transition, between childhood and adulthood, fantasy and reality and, given the play's turbulent history, past and present. Today, a trio of gay parents is considered merely uncommon, but in 1984 (and again 1993), the premise was so poorly received that Vogel buried the play until this production.
Some moments of AND BABY MAKES SEVEN are so laden with subtext that its not always clear what Vogel is trying to convey. Regrets, jealousies and alliances among the characters are hinted at yet never fruitfully explored. The play is most successful in the moments when its two worlds collide. After all, those things that are too uncomfortable, too petty, too serious to say among adults are so much easier to say among children.
Photo Credit: Steven Schreiber