And Baby Makes Seven is, of all things, a sitcom–or at least it tries to be. This is hardly the sort of offspring you’d expect from the commingled genes of playwright Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive, The Baltimore Waltz), Manbites Dog’s queer theater festival and Bold Maids Productions, which was founded, says the program, “to create theatrical space for the expressions of women’s anger and women’s desire.” Even the title sounds like something that could slip easily into the late afternoon rerun schedule next to Eight is Enough or My Two Dads.
In this case, there’s only one dad, but there are two moms. All are gay (hands up everybody who didn’t anticipate that plot point), and their lives together would be snug as bugs if the two women didn’t keep conjuring up a rowdy gang of imaginary playmates. Anna, the pregnant one, sometimes affects a lisp and becomes a precocious 9-year-old named Cecil. Her lover Ruth ups the ante, alternating between a rambunctious French boy named Henri and an even more rambunctious stray dog called Orphan. Not surprisingly, the third roommate, Peter, eventually tires of sharing an apartment with these interlopers, and most of the play centers around the real trio’s campaign to get rid of them.
Vogel handles Baby‘s premise with a blithe disregard for its implausibility, never bothering to supply a serious motive–or even a clever, frivolous one–for Anna and Ruth’s compulsive playacting. The show’s moral is as heartwarming and uncontroversial (and as literal) as you can imagine: Don’t lose touch with your inner child. But as with television, the sit here is little more than a peg on which to hang to com. Given that its author also wrote the dangerous, darkly funny How I Learned to Drive–surely the only Pulitzer Prize-winning play to get laughs out of incest and pedophilia–I can only assume that Baby is either a much earlier work or a trifle Vogel whipped up to let actors cut capers and try on silly accents.
Touch Mime veteran Laurie Wolf, playing Ruth/Henri/Orphan, is handed the bulk of the caper-cutting, and she makes the most of it. The scene in which she acts out Orphan’s death from hydrophobia–tied to a chair and free-associating a fevered jumble of barks and tag lines from Shakespeare’s tragedies–offers five of the funniest minutes you’re likely to see on any stage this year. Her Henri is less spectacular, but she’s energetic, convincing and even poignant as a naughty little boy with a Maurice Chevalier accent.
Marla Morton-Brown is costumed to look about 11-and-a-half-months pregnant, but she’s so subdued as Anna and her alter ego, Cecil, that it sometimes seems she’s barely portraying the characters at all. That very soft-spokenness creates a solid sense of reality, however, and her reactions to the lunacy around her grow more amusing as the evening progresses. Still, it’s a good thing for those of us with aging ears that none of the seats at Manbites Dog are very far from the stage. Stephen Marquez takes a similar approach to Peter, but in his case, less doesn’t add up to more; it just comes across as a lack of energy.
Indeed, the whole production has a lackadaisical quality. Director Jules Odendahl seems unable to end any of the play’s many scenes with the crisp, climactic blackouts the script calls for, and some interchanges that ought to be hilarious–like an Act II dinner conversation that keeps returning to the subject of baby poo–dawdle along till they’re only mildly amusing. Even with a top-notch staging, And Baby Makes Seven would be a lightweight work. Despite its overall good nature and some good moments, Bold Maids’ production is too often both lightweight and heavy going.