Theatre Review: Bathwater Mostly Clear, a Little Bit Murkey

Michael Vitorovich and Katia Gomez find the subtleties in Alumnae Theatre's Baby With the Bathwater

Christopher Durang's plays always exist under the guise of "what if life was in a mental institution?' His writing is unique as it balances the imbalances of humanity with writing that appeals to both mainstream audiences and theatre junkies. Baby With the Bathwater, playing at the Alumnae Theatre pleases the latter with lines like, "... it's Nora five minutes after the last scene in A Doll's House."

Durang also knows how to balance bitter reality with absurd behaviour and reaction. But this equilibrium, so joyfully manifested by the playwright, must be maintained by the director of his productions and in this case was, for the most part, successful. But at times the Bathwater did become a bit...murky.

The play centres around John (Andrew Dundass) and Helen (Tanya Lynne), as they try to raise their newborn child Daisy. Their limited knowledge of parenthood is instantly evident as they don't even realize that Daisy is, in fact a boy. Thus begins Daisy's journey for identity and the deranged cast of characters that come into, and affect, his life.

The Alumnae's season opener is a hysterical look at those family dysfunctions told as only Durang can tell them. Dinah Watts, director of this production, describes the play as, "the consequences of being - or having -imperfect parents... but (it's)also about the way society responds (or doesn't) to children in need. Durang has written about an extremely crazy family... but we still identify with them somehow."

Watts' intention with the play was to," provide a clear presentation of Christopher Durang's play. While his characters and circumstances are recognizable - even 'normal' - the events and words in this play are often outrageous. The more "normally" we can present this outrageousness, the funnier it will be."

Visually the set design, lighting and costumes were very effective, and the direction kept the story moving. Overall the look was fun and fresh and didn't detract but rather complimented the world of Durang's lunacy.

And though Watts' intentions were the right ones, to avoid the hyper real (bigger than life) performances in favour of genuine ones that would ground the piece and, in essence emphasis the absurdity, that choice only works if all the actors can translate it. Many of the actors were able to do this and it became clear that the audiences reacted to those performances with sustained laughs.

Circumstances in the first act, however, seemed to lack urgency, thus confusing the much needed pacing for the type of show it was. An example would have been when separate conversations, which could have looked like they were simultaneous, felt stilted, much like a VCR being put on "pause" and "play" constantly throughout the scene.

There were also several uneven performances that held back the show from being both consistent and great. Andrew Dundass and Sarah Sherman, though strong at times, would have benefited more from listening onstage than playing ideas. This hurt their chemistry with Lynne and drew the first act farther from the director's intentions.

The second act picked up a great deal, with strong performances from the Park ladies, Jenna Harris, Chelsea Mathers, Dennsion Smith and Natalie Colalillo. Of particular note was Michael Vitorovich, whose dry delivery as the confused Daisy was the most subtle and humorous of all the performances.

In the end, though, the message was clear. As Watts puts it sometimes, " hands us rotten deals, but as long as we can still laugh at them and ourselves, we might be ok. Also, it could be a nice reminder to keep an eye out for people who need help...especially children...and parents."

And that message is clear in this production. The Alumnae group overall did a nice job with the show and it is certainly worth a look, if you've got the time. Just a little tightening of the screws would help to really make this show a lasting winner.

Baby with the Bathwater is playing until Ocotber 7th at the Alumnae Theatre 70 Berkeley Street (Adelaide and Parliament)Tickets: 416-364-4170 Thursday 8 pm - 2 for 1
Friday and Saturday 8 pm - $18 Sunday 2 pm - Pay-what-you-can

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