Baby With The Bathwater – A Funny, Absurd Comedy (4 Stars)

Baby With The Bathwater” Written by Christopher Durang; Directed by Lizette M. Morris; Produced by Happy Medium Theatre at The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont St. Boston, MA. Performances end Feb. 22nd.

“Home is where the horror is.” That’s the theme of Happy Medium Theatre’s 5th season and Baby With The Bathwater is perfectly suited to the subject while adding loads of laughs to a potentially frightening concept.

This production is right in HMT’s wheel-house given that their mission is “to offer a professional yet fun theatrical experience”. That would explain how they pull this show off so well. It’s a crazy, madcap work written by Christopher Durang that they seem to embrace whole-heartedly and perform with great enthusiasm. Every actor seems to give their all and the energy is high in this shoe-box sized theatre space. It needs to be, because the insanity is sometimes hard to swallow as Durang pulls out all the stops in this absurdist work and does not overly concern himself with reality, but focuses on in-the-moment gags and funniness.

The audience thoroughly enjoyed the first act as we were constantly bombarded with zany antics and a whacky script delivered in a rapid-fire, confident fashion.
Right from the opening moments we were plunged into the insane household of John and Helen Dingleberry as they coo and puzzle over their new baby. With no clue as to how to raise a child (or what one even is) they attempt to apply their own misguided knowledge of the world (“All diseases are psychological!”) to raising “Daisy” – their little boy.

It’s fair to say this is a dark comedy given the ever-present risk surrounding the child. At various times his life is threatened by a vast array of dangers. From his mother – “I don’t think I should hold the baby, I had cocktails for breakfast. I’m a little unsteady.” To his nervous, self-medicating father, who takes Nyquil and Quaaludes to sleep at night. To his self-appointed nanny who after stealing hospital records, “descends” on the households of newborns to “help out”. To strange neighbors with hungry dogs who happen to barge in uninvited and try to steal the baby away. In fact, this is a pregnant woman’s worst nightmares acted out on stage.

While all of this may sound bizarre and unsettling, the excellent cast overpowers the worrisome moments (and there are plenty) with wild-eyed excitement and superb characterizations that propel the show forward and make one suspend disbelief, in exchange for hearty guffaws.

Just as I was wishing there was more sanity to balance the unremitting absurdity, the second act lets us see the final product of John and Helen’s awful parenting, Daisy, as a grown man. While the insanity never stops, the inevitable questions do arise and a more serious undertone insinuates itself, forcing one to consider the real-life costs of people brought up in unhealthy environments.
All the actors were fun to watch and brought great humor and electricity to their roles. Nicole Howard was hysterically funny as a wide-eyed lunatic of a nanny. She also played the less than scrupulous power-mad principal at Daisy’s school to great effect.

If you’re a fan of comedienne Sarah Silverman you’ll love Denise Drago who nearly stole the show as the bewildered and misguided mother, Helen. Jeremy Towle as Daisy’s father John has his best moments in the second half as he drinks himself into a delirious stupor with a bottle of vodka. Drew Linehan played multiple parts as did others and she was spot on in every role, nearly bringing me to tears of laughter with her breathlessly hysterical and raging diatribes.

Mike Budwey brought a believable and calming pathos to his role as the badly broken Daisy, leaving us on a hopeful note that he might find his way to happiness after many, many years of college, cross-dressing and therapy.