Constance Zaytoun as Anna and Susan Bott as Ruth in a scene from And Baby Makes Seven
(Photo credit: Steven Schreiber)
There has been renewed interest lately in the early, pre-How I Learned To Drive plays by Paul Vogel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. First there was The Baltimore Waltz (1992) at the Underground Theater last November. Now And Baby Makes Seven from 1984 is on view in a thoughtful, detailed production by the Purpleman Theater Company, directed by Marc Stuart Weitz, at the New Ohio Theatre in the West Village. Baby‘s tale of a same-sex couple having a child still resonates with particular clarity nowadays. Except for the fact that this lesbian couple, Ruth and Anna (the one who’s bearing the child) couldn’t be married back then, the play rings true as it explores all the anxieties, humor and fantasies straining the relationship of these two women with each other and with Peter, the biological father of the child. These strongly vivid fantasies are, in fact, the driving conceit of Baby. They are alternately amusing, wearisome and desperate, but always expressed with absolute clarity by the amazing cast. Ms. Vogel’s use of language is particularly agile in this play, finding a fine balance between everyday speech and the whimsical language of adults pretending to be children.
Brett J. Banakis’ witty, under-construction set is a subtle metaphor for the state of mind of these three adult-looking people. Plastic drop cloths hang over unfinished walls and paint swatches are plastered throughout, while, in an especially keen touch, Pamper cartons are piled high. That the walls never get finished, let alone painted and the Pampers keep piling up, says much about the faux “all’s right with the world” ending which finds the three coping in their oddball way with each other’s anxieties and doubts.
The play opens with an in-the-dark conversation between Henri an anxious child with a thick French accent and Cecil a bright nine-year-old, introducing and setting up these characters. Anna is Cecil and Ruth is Henri who tends towards loud emotional outbursts. Added to the mix is a character called Orphan who Ruth also enacts. Though Orphan has human characteristics he seems to be a pooch whose bite—real or fantastical—figures prominently late in the play as the human characters make brave efforts to find their emotional footing in the supposedly real world after the actual baby arrives. The strangest thing about Ms. Vogel’s play is that there is little to indicate what they do to support themselves, choosing to concentrate on the claustrophobic, unfinished rooms they occupy and not the outside world
And Baby Makes Seven makes great demands on the three actors who not only have to cope with the daily grind of friendship, romance and parenthood, but with three highly developed fanciful characters who too often take over their lives like a drug or alcohol addiction. Susan Bott is Ruth (and Henri and Orphan). She thrillingly turns her emotions on and off with split-second timing. Her absolute dedication to each of her personas sometimes registers as an acting exercise, but her boldness is exciting. Constance Zaytoun’s Anna is the most level-headed character. She exudes a warm charisma and a profound understanding of the maternal instinct, even towards the three imagined characters and Peter. Peter is played by Ken Barnett as a barely adult, boy/man whose entire life becomes this ménage à trois, or should I say “à sept.” He registers a slight befuddlement, yet finds the inner strength to keep up his own in this relationship with these two very challenging females.
Paula Vogel’s take on new-fangled family values, illuminated by a great cast of actors, is worth a trip to the West Village.
written by Joel Benjamin
And Baby Makes Seven (through April 12, 2014)
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher St., #1E, between Greenwich and Washington Streets, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 888-596-1027 or visit http://www.hatethebaby.com
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission