In their first production of the fall semester, the Columbia University Players present Christopher Durang’s “Baby with the Bathwater,” a dark comedy about child-rearing, directed by Max Fiest CC ’17. Last night, Bwog newbie Lexie Lehmann had the chance to sit in on the play’s dress rehearsal. Below are some of her thoughts! (Content warnings for the show itself: child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual assault, and gender dysphoria)
The latest performance gracing the (limited) performance spaces of Columbia is CU Players’ “Baby with the Bathwater”: a hilarious play with a sinister twist about two hopeless parents raising their newborn child, Daisy. The parents, John and Helen, played by James Ritchie (CC’20) and Harrison Gale (BC’20) respectively, are a match made far from Heaven. Helen is a whiney, aspiring novelist while John is a charming alcoholic with childlike tendencies. And while the two frequently muse about wanting a divorce, they decide to stay together for the sake of their child.
To help with childcare, they hire a neurotic nanny, aptly named “Nanny”, played by Jennifer Yu (CC ’17). Nanny does little to help, and instead focuses her attention on seducing the naïve John. During the nighttime, a homeless, pregnant woman named Cynthia, played by Sarah Billings (BC ’18), breaks into the house to sing to Daisy. Upon discovering the woman, John and Helen decide to take her in. Now she, Nanny, and the two parents are forced to share a bed and to divide responsibility over taking care of Daisy — when truly, none of them are qualified.
Most of the play follows Daisy’s life through the perspective of the four whimsical characters raising her – until the second act, when Daisy appears as a grown adult, played by Christopher Jackson (GS ’18)… and the full effects of being raised by deliriously unfit chaperones are revealed. Here, the play takes a dramatic and unexpected turn; Daisy is a boy who had been forced to conform to a feminine name and clothing because his parents ‘guessed wrong’ and never checked because they ‘didn’t want to intrude’. And now, he is horribly depressed, failing college, and a sex addict. Yikes.
The play struck a careful and deliberate balance between funny and serious that kept me on my toes throughout the duration of the show. One minute, I found myself giggling at Ritchie’s character, crouched in the fetal position at the thought of interacting with his wife, while the next, I was speechless at an unexpected revelation from Daisy’s dynamic character. Overall, the play was filled with unanticipated moments — and while I went in expecting a traditional slap-stick comedy, what the playwright is known for — I learned quickly that this show was anything but ‘traditional’. With that, the show’s content warning for sensitive material including child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual assault, and gender dysphoria is definitely not to be taken lightly. This play is not for the faint of heart, and despite being supplemented by funny, clever moments, I was shocked just as much as I was amused. Admittedly, some of the jokes about alcoholism and mental illness were a little too dark for my taste, but the range of dark comedy speaks to the depth of the play’s narrative.
As actors, Ritchie and Gale make quite the quirky pair, and the juxtaposition of James’ blonde, blue-eyed, lankiness and Harrison’s sassy, petite stature works brilliantly to augment the humor – as well as the chaos – of their relationship. Yu and Billings, who each play two additional supporting characters in the play’s second act, are equally whimsical, and both help keep the play’s more dramatic moments somewhat light(er). Yu’s performance was my favorite of the small cast; her unfaltering eccentricity, sporadically interrupted by cynical quips, provided comedic relief during the show’s darker turns.
As for the show’s creative and technical elements, the Lerner Black Box provided the perfect setting for the intimate and small performance, and the close proximity of my seat to the actors supplemented both the piece’s most dramatic and most humorous moments. Additionally, the simplicity of settings between Daisy’s bedroom, to a park bench, to a therapist’s office, were clearly defined but never distracting. I particularly enjoyed the play’s clever use of props — including, among others, a birthday banner reading simply “Banner” and a person-sized gift box. A variety of lighting choices emphasized poignant moments, such as a single, bright spotlight on Daisy during a therapy session and flickering lights as she changes from a dress into more masculine apparel.
Overall, I was incredibly enthralled and impressed by CU Players’ production and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for fun Thursday/Friday/Saturday night plans — given you enter with a bit of a thick skin. While the show’s dark nature might dissuade some from attending, I fully anticipate that the Lerner Black Box will be full of both raucous laughs and shocked gasps all weekend.
The play will be performed in the Lerner Black Box at 7 PM on Thursday, October 20th, Friday, October 21st, and Saturday, October 22nd. Tickets are $5 with CUID and $10 without CUID, available for purchase at the TIC.
Photo courtesy of CU Players’ Facebook