Regression Anxiety

Adults become their own children in Baby Makes Seven.

And Baby Makes Seven Presented by Convergence-Continuum at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, Through November 18; 216-687-0074
Ruth and Peter perfect the art of childcare.
Ruth and Peter perfect the art of childcare.
It's hard to fault lesbians and gays for indulging in fantasy family lives, since their attempts at building real families are under continuous attack. To the fundamentalist Taliban, sleazy IMs from a congressman to an underage page are less troubling than a same-sex couple raising children in a loving home. Amazing how elastic are the teachings of Jesus, once you subject them to the rigors of political orthodoxy.

It's not entirely clear what is causing the lesbian couple and their gay male roommate to regress and become their own children in Paula Vogel's And Baby Makes Seven. It could be societal pressure, a tendency toward overimaginative horseplay, or just run-of-the-mill psychosis. But the play can't help but conjure the underlying antipathy toward gay families that distorts those natural yearnings. This production at Convergence-Continuum finds much of the absurd humor in the situation, but a thin and ultimately one-trick premise undermines any serious exploration of larger themes.

Ruth, Anna, and Peter not only share an apartment, they also participate in a free-floating and continually shifting faux life in which stout Ruth is also Henri, the young French boy from the movie The Red Balloon, and Anna pretends to be his American counterpart Cecil. The 10-year-olds regale each other with stories of where babies come from (pee hole? cabbage leaf?) until daddy Peter appears to put them straight.

To complicate matters, Ruth also morphs into Orphan, a mean little doggy, or, if you wish, a symbol of the feral wild child. Meanwhile, Anna is pregnant (apparently for real), and that fact applies some pressure to the delicate home life the daft trio has created.

In the first act, the switchbacks from the actual characters to their made-up personas are accompanied by wonderfully appropriate sound cues that add to the fun. When fang-baring Orphan appears, the maudlin strains of the theme song from Lassie Come Home are a perfect counterpoint. And as the two women flip back and forth, at times almost within the same sentence, the feeling of identity disconnect verges on delightfully loony.

Even the most ordinary tasks take on strange aspects, as Peter is instructed by Ruth on the basics of bathing a baby -- until they lose control and begin playing football with the doll, Peter spiking the rubber infant in the end zone during his touchdown dance.

The plummiest role belongs to Denise Astorino, who exudes placid normalcy in her fleeting moments as Ruth. She also crafts some amusing glimpses of both Henri and Orphan, but doesn't quite master either of them. Her Gallic accent for Henri occasionally lapses into something approaching guttural Romanian, and she narrowly misses a mixture of innocence and boyish curiosity that would have given the lad more depth. As snarling Orphan, Astorino whimpers and growls with gusto, but a manic one-person scene in which Ruth, Henri, and Orphan battle over a PBJ sandwich never quite escalates to the manic pace required for maximum laughter and/or astonishment.

Jovana Batkovic is excellent, both as Anna, who half-heartedly wants Ruth to stop the play-acting, and as Cecil, who speaks with the nasal blockage common to many prepubescent boys. Geoffrey Hoffman, the only participant who doesn't portray more than one character, relies too heavily on pursed lips and a diffident manner to fashion Peter, who goes along to get along.

By act two, the anarchic helium that kept this inventive conceit afloat earlier starts leaking, leaving one with the sense that playwright Vogel has painted herself into a schizophrenic corner. She implants a fairly predictable exit for Henri (for anyone who has seen that movie), but the other plot threads unravel in an unkempt manner. And a last desperate bid for shock value with Peter comes across like a futile attempt to recapture the frantic absurdity established earlier.

Under the direction of Clyde Simon, the production is smoothly paced and wittily uses scene descriptions and stick-figure drawings, scrawled in a child's hand and projected on a bedsheet suspended above the large bed the boys share.

In a sense, it seems as if the playwright wants to have it both ways: When her characters are switching roles at lightning speed, we're not supposed to worry about who said what to whom and should just enjoy the blur of character reversals. But when things slow up and the comments turn more conventionally wry ("The baby smiles all the time; he either has gas or is mentally retarded"), we are expected to encounter these individuals on a more realistic level.

Since the script doesn't commit itself to either absurdity or realism, it is left to dangle slowly in the wind. And the audience leaves with the feeling of having witnessed a slick and streamlined near-miss.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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