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Review: BUGGY BABY Zigzags Down A Humor-Horror Rabbit Hole at APAC

Buggy Baby runs June 2-26, 2022 at Astoria Performing Arts Center.

Review: BUGGY BABY Zigzags Down A Humor-Horror Rabbit Hole at APAC
Erin Neufer, Rana Roy

Surreal and surreptitious, the comedy-horror BUGGY BABY centers on some displaced immigrants in London seeking normalcy despite the lunacy in their lives. Written by Josh Azouz and directed by Rory McGregor, the US premiere of this twisted tale also features a multi-talented toddler character and a pair of dastardly rabbits.

College student-and-mother Nur (Rana Roy) and her partner Jaden (Hadi Tabbal) hole up in a spacious-but-sparse warehouse space that's swaddled in a warm, pink aura. Scenic Designer Brendan Gonzales Boston and Lighting Designer Stacey Derosier need no digital projections to add a dire dimension to the play's minimalist, menacing vibe: an unfinished wall exposes what could be insulation...or cotton candy? Although the presence of Baby Aya (Erin Neufer) suggests a nursery, an axe hanging on the back wall foreshadows otherwise.

Review: BUGGY BABY Zigzags Down A Humor-Horror Rabbit Hole at APAC
Hadi Tabbal, Erin Neufer, Rana Roy

While Nur is at school, Jaden watches over Baby Aya (unless he's detouring on a hallucinogenic trip). Baby Aya favors her bottle; Jaden has a taste for mood-altering leaves - a hunger that is both habit- and rabbit-forming. More than once, two raggedy-looking rabbits (Jeffrey Brabant and Zack Segel) pop onstage from any-which-direction, keeping Jaden (and the audience) on high alert for violence.

Throughout the 110-minute one-act play, the tension between Nur and Jaden remains taut. Jaden questions Nur's whereabouts; Nur is suspicious of Jaden's red eyes and refuses to let him read the fairy tale-inspired story she wrote in class because it's in English (not his primary language) and is "very shouty very blah blah blah and the story is shit cos we weren't allowed to use the original. The whole exercise was perverse."

Nur isn't the only one in the fractured family with a story. The precocious and prescient Baby Aya describes how "When the axe entered the woods, the trees said: 'oh look, the handle is one of us. No one noticed the blade." Bigger than life, Baby Aya is physically the tallest of the bunch, clad in a duck-themed yellow onesie and a purple helmet intended to protect and reshape her once-flat skull.

Wide-eyed and rubber-jointed, Neufer as Baby Aya regresses and progresses fluidly: she coos, giggles, whines, cries, craps and even raps. Nobody puts this baby in a corner! Neufer commandeers a microphone as easily as she does a baby bottle. Just keep her away from scissors; this toddler is on the move, and she means business. Vulnerable and verbose, Baby Aya seems to be everywhere at once, including in the line of danger (Jaden calls her "little gazelle").

Together but disconnected, seen but not heard, agitated yet awkwardly affectionate - the three primary characters in BUGGY BABY dwell in close quarters while gnawing at each other's sanity like rabbits munching a carrot: "consume or be consumed" is their survival instinct mantra.

Part of what makes BUGGY BABY so can't-look-away compelling is it demands that we suspend our disbelief regarding what a baby, bunny or a blended family should look like, sound like, act like. When Baby Aya sang a line from Queen's "I Want to Break Free!", I don't think I was the only one who hoped she'd have a mic -drop moment and move beyond the madness.

Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) in Association with Dutch Kills Warehouse and Lawryn Lacroix presents BUGGY BABY June 2-26 at the Astoria Performing Arts Center, 44-02 23rd Street, LIC.

One act, no intermission, 110 minutes. Get tickets HERE.

Photos: Emilio Madrid

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