Playwright Paula Vogel premiered “And Baby Makes Seven” back in 1984, eight years before garnering widespread attention for “The Baltimore Waltz” and 14 years before winning the Pulitzer Prize for “How I Learned to Drive.” The play includes many Vogel hallmarks: a provocative premise, bold sexuality, and a slice of the absurd. But it also has many of the defects one would expect in an early work: a simplistic moral, sloppy characterization and a slice of self-indulgence.
As currently staged by the Stage B theater company, running on off-nights at the Firehouse Theatre, this production also has the problem of being crammed into a downstage corner with many technical complications that director Keith Fitzgerald can’t really overcome. His three actors throw themselves gamely into their roles but the play doesn’t provide enough back-story or context on any of them to make us care.
One slice “Baby’s” premise may have been a bit shocking in 1984: a lesbian couple has decided to have a baby with the assistance of a gay friend, Peter (Stevie Rice). Another slice seems absurd even today: the couple has a rich fantasy life that involves acting like energetic French boys. Anna (Maggie Bavolak) has a 9-year old alter-ego named Cecil who wants to be a geophysicist while Ruth (Lanaya Van Driesen) alternates between Henri and Orphan, the latter a near-savage supposedly raised by dogs. With Anna hugely pregnant and the birth eminent, Peter objects to this constant role-playing and the triad decides to kill off the fantasy children.
Several scenes play out behind a sheet so only shadows are supposed to be seen. However, the combination of the lighting design by Alex Ginder and the sound/projection design by Lucian Restivo make these interludes a bit of a muddle: the actors can often be seen behind the sheet and the sound is inconsistent. The lackluster set design tries to evoke a kitchen with little more than a coffee maker, a loaf of bread and a bottle of vodka.
These technical deficiencies don’t inhibit the cast. With three characters to play, Van Driesen has the most to do and she tackles the challenge with remarkable energy. It’s hard to pick the show’s comic highlight; it’s either the passionate battle she enacts between Henri and Orphan over a peanut butter sandwich or her extravagant death throes as Orphan succumbs to rabies. She also has a sweet chemistry with Bavolak, who gets a bit screechy at times playing the overwrought Anna but whose nerdy Cecil is charming. Rice has some nice moments but, with so little background on who Peter is, it’s hard to understand or empathize with his character’s place in the unfolding comic drama.
That’s really the problem with Paula’s script as a whole: we know next to nothing about these characters and, as such, the elaborate alternative reality they create just seems odd. There is probably an engrossing and entertaining story to be told about a gay triad with a rich fantasy life. But this isn’t it.
“And Baby Makes Seven” can be seen at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 West Broad Street, Mondays and Tuesday through March 4th. Go to andbaby.brownpapertickets.com for tickets and information.