Christopher Durang’s irreverent Baby with the Bathwater is the current production at Scott Community College, and upon my arrival about 25 minutes prior to showtime, I enjoyed a few moments of the sweet music-box soundtrack, thinking it a clever juxtaposition to the darkly comedic farce that was to follow. However, a few minutes of it were enough for me to get the idea, and because those sounds were all that was in the offing regarding pre-show music, the next 22 minutes of waiting seemed, well, a bit long. Perhaps the music box also ignited my inner grump, because, with only a few exceptions, I did not find much comedic respite in the words and actions that followed.
Directed here by Kevin Babbitt, Durang's play is a twisted farce that combines ditzy daftness with off-the-wall literary references and characters that occasionally utter their subconscious thoughts unfiltered and unrelated to anything else taking place. It also features sudden, unexpected moments of grimness. (BWTB contains elements of child abuse, at least on an emotional level, but because it's presented so outlandishly, one can accept it in the name of farce.) Creating such radical shifts of thought and changes in mood and tone takes a deft, light approach, as well as an ability to slip witty repartee trippingly off the tongue through bright, quick pacing. SCC's opening-night production, unfortunately, was lacking in these elements. Much of the acting, even by those with considerable stage experience, was on a rudimentary level, and there were a few moments in which the only tripping was the occasional stumble or awkward pause in the delivery of lines. In addition, reaction to other performers – one of the most important elements of acting – was oftentimes a missing factor.
BWTB opens with two new parents, John (John R. Turner) and Helen (Sara Kutzli), who don't have a clue about what to do with their newborn baby. They also can’t decide whether it's a boy or a girl (the doctors have told them they can decide this later), and they coo to it sweetly it one minute only to yell and scream at it the next. Their parenting style is from the School of Insane, and often includes alcohol, arguments, and fits of odd behavior, such as instantly and inexplicably lying down on the floor.
Turner’s previous work has included some fine portrayals of Shakespearean characters. However, BWTB's John is a role he's not naturally well-suited for, and his performance would have benefited, I think, from more specific direction regarding character believability and comedic timing. Kutzli, meanwhile, is new to me, and I would have enjoyed her more had she delivered her lines with a more natural speaking voice. Perhaps it was a case of opening-night nerves, but her comedic potential was frequently lost in her tendency to speak in an unnaturally high register, and moments that should have conveyed various strong emotions were instead just loud and flat.
But then: Enter the Nanny (Melanie “Medusa” Hanson) with an umbrella, suggesting Mary Poppins with a dark side. In her first scene on Friday, Hanson initially had a bit of difficulty establishing consistency of character. Later, however, in the Jack-in-the box scene, Hanson really comes to life, and delivers some great lines embellished with superior timing, wonderful facial expressions, and a bold, wacky laugh. At that point, her performance begins to give us a true sense of the comic madness of residing in Durang territory, and I really enjoyed that scene.
Max Robnett portrays the young man Daisy, the son of the aforesaid hapless parents. And when he took the stage for a series of monologues and interactions with a psychologist (written as an offstage voice, but presented here as an on-stage character portrayed by ]acob McLees), I immediately responded to Robnett's competent, varied line readings and ability to draw a believable, likable figure. His work was very good, and his characterization very effective in portraying Daisy’s confused sexual identity, difficulty in finishing college, and struggles with writing a paper on Jonathan Swift.
With her lovely and natural comic demeanor, Wendy Czekalski manages to prove that there are no small parts (even though I wish she had not been so underutilized here), and rounding out the cast are Jenny Knox, Jamie Childe, Erica VanderVelde, and Astrid Carreon in a production that, based on audience reactions, appeared to provide an evening of entertainment. I think this Baby with the Bathwater has its limitations, but kudos to Scott Community College for providing its students an opportunity to learn and grow through the medium of theatre.
Baby with the Bathwater runs at Scott Community College's Student Life Center (500 Belmont Road, Room 2400 through Door Five, Bettendorf) through April 30, and more information is available by calling (563)441-4339 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.