After Centerstage’s impressive and impactful mounting of Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” last month, I was elated to get the opportunity to see more of this playwright’s work with the Strand Theatre’s offering of “And Baby Makes Seven.” First premiering in 1984, Vogel’s work was groundbreaking on many levels. The play concerns three individuals, two women (Ruth and Anna) and a man (Peter) who impregnates Anna so they all can raise a child. The production is careful never to put a label on their sexuality or relationship so I want to avoid that too, they are not quite polyamorous, but not quite a throuple- they live somewhere in their own creation. They’re never explicitly defined as lesbian or gay, or pansexual, or bisexual etc., they are rather something totally tailored to fit their own identity. That’s the power and importance of this piece, Vogel has created a queer utopia of sorts where these characters are free to explore all the facets of their own identities.
In addition to freedom to explore sexuality without labels, Ruth and Anna also have a rich fantasy life. They habitually pretend to be children (Henri, Cecil, and Orphan). The conflict of the play comes when Peter wants them to stop playing as children before the baby is born. The three of them resolve to “kill the children,” a lovely metaphorical manifestation of all the ways queer parents are expected kill their queerness (especially their sexuality) in order to be deemed parents who are good enough to have children in a heteronormative society.
It’s also incredibly important to understand how this is such a deviation from the majority of mainstream queer theatre which predominately centers liberation on male-oriented activities and perspectives. Vogel’s smart and affecting script offers a significantly more inclusive and diverse perspective of queer liberation, and the Strand continues to cement itself as a theatre willing to showcase unique and bold perspectives.
Now, this production itself, while aptly chosen and immensely important, only partly succeeded at reaching the full potential of the script. Let me start with where they succeeded. The clearest part was the commitment of the actors. All three of them (Jess Rivera, Katharine Vary, and Grant Emerson Harvey) were in it 100% from start to finish, and there was a palpable atmosphere of comradery and connection between all three. The cast managed to communicate the story in an engaging way with enthusiasm and charisma.
However this commitment from the cast was a double-edged sword. Over the top histrionics dominated the production to the point where it felt as though I was watching a production that was still in the stage of rehearsal where the director is telling the actors to go as wild as they possibly can. It’s an important part to the process, but it’s not as important as the next step which is to edit. Director Emily Hall clearly gave the cast free reign to mug it up and go off the walls without then editing and focusing the performances to reach the casts’ full potential. This is especially evident in Jess Rivera’s over the top performance that had the potential to be a comic gold mind, but instead verged on self-indulgent.
In addition, the aesthetic and tone of the play was inconsistent from moment to moment. I could tell the attempt was to blend styles, a little bit realism, a little bit absurdism, a little bit naturalism, and that intent was right on the money. Hall’s concept was effective and well thought out, it was the execution that was wanting. Having actors cross into the audience, having direct addresses to us, bouncing back between realism and absurdism are all great ways to distort and dissect form, but it only works if the distortion elevates the production and is informed by the content itself. In this production it was unclear how switching from form to form enhanced the content.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? This is an infinitely important script, with beautiful diversity showcased on stage. Is it a perfect production? Probably not, but it is worth the price of admission to support this important theatre company. The cast’s vibrant commitment to the piece allows the power of the text to shine through the production. (B)
Running through April 21st at The Strand.