Wacky is the word for Baby With The Bathwater. Winningly wild and wonderful apply too to Christopher Durang’s 1983 comedy classic, as does gut-bustingly hilarious, a bathtub full of adjectives and adverbs that make the latest from Diversionary Theatre well worth a San Diego road trip this month.
Those only familiar with Durang’s work from his more reality-grounded recent smash hit Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike may well find themselves sitting more than a tad open-mouthed during Baby In The Bathwater’s first minutes, so absurdity-based this early Durang gem is.
John and Helen might look like your average everyday all-American 20something couple as they gaze down into their newborn’s bassinet, but just wait till they start talking, as when John describes his band-new babe as “Daddy’s little baked potato,” a term of endearment which so infuriates Helen that she spits back “No one wants to be called a food!”
In fact, so outraged is Helen at John’s single innocent remark that she immediately demands a divorce on the grounds that “I don’t like men with blond hair. I like men with dark hair, but I’m afraid of them. I’m not afraid of you. I hate you.”
And so it goes, with Helen refusing to assign their newborn a gender (“The doctor said we could decide later.”) and John deciding to seek “professional help.” (“I want to go to McLean in Massachusetts. That’s the institution James Taylor was in for a time. He seems so tranquil and calm when he gives his concerts.”)
It’s right about now that out of nowhere pops up Mary Poppins! Well, not Mary herself, even if Nanny does arrive trademark Poppins umbrella held high and a list of demands a mile long (“I like chunky peanut butter better than the smooth kind, but if you already have the smooth kind, we’ll finish that off before you buy a new jar.”) but the next best thing to Mary, albeit less “practically perfect.”
If I offer up the above abundance of quotes, it’s because no mere synopsis can possibly convey Christopher Durang’s unique style of writing as well as Durang himself.
Suffice it to say that audiences can expect a bit of intergenerational extramarital hanky-panky, a crazed school principal, and a grown-up boy in a dress about to embark on one-thousand, seven-hundred-fifty-six opposite-and-same-sex hookups during a mere ten years of therapy on the path to what may or may not be a happy ending for baby-turned-man.
Clearly, Baby With The Bathwater is not your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill sitcom, and perhaps equally clearly, a Christopher Durang play is going to succeed or fail based on execution.
Fortunately at Diversionary, director Andrew Oswald and a sensational quintet of San Diego actors do Durang just right. Heightened their performances may be (and over-the-top when over-the-top is what’s called for), but never do they take the easy route and play for laughs, just one reason that Diversionary audiences may well be laughing even louder and more often than they did at last summer’s hilarious Regrets Only.
San Diego favorites Amanda Sitton and Brian Mackey couldn’t be more outrageously funny or more hilariously outrageous than they are as Helen and John, characters the stellar duo get to take from baby Daisy’s infancy through his young adulthood and ten years of college.
As for Shana Wride, the San Diego treasure ought at the very least to score every award nomination in the book for her tour-de-force comedic supporting turns as the Nanny From Hell, a playground mom, and most deliciously of all, as raven-tressed nutcase Principal Willoughby, whose only response to Daisy’s disturbing essay (“Dark, dank rags. Wet, fetid towels. A large German shepherd, its innards splashed across the windshield of a car. Is this a memory?”) is a pleased-as-punch “I’d give her an A.” Wride rocks once again!
San Diego native (and recent Welk Resort Oklahoma! star) Kailey O’Donnell shines in her very first straight play ever, first as pregnant wacko Cynthia, then as a second playground mom, later as beleaguered schoolteacher Miss Pringle, and finally as Susan, the young woman who might just turn Daisy’s twisted life around—and the musical theater up-and-comer is a delight in all four roles.
Last but definitely not least is relative San Diego newbie J. Tyler Jones, whose Daisy combines sweetness, sincerity, just enough of a dark side, first-rate acting chops, and nerdy-cute good looks to make him One To Watch on the SD theater scene.
Baby With The Bathwater looks absolutely terrific on the Diversionary stage, beginning with scenic designer Kristen Flores’s multipurpose set, its chalk-drawn wall figures echoing the play’s leitmotifs (family members, pooch, and careening bus). Kate Bishop’s often whimsical costumes are winners too, as are Kim Parker’s terrific wig stylings, most especially Cynthia’s, which would do Roseanne Roseannadanna proud, albeit less triangularly. Chad Shelton’s lighting design, Bonnie Durben’s prop design, and Melanie Chen’s sound design are equally topnotch.
Anthony Methvin is assistant director. Arianna Bellizzi is stage manager.
Diversionary’s latest welcomes brand new executive artistic director Matt M. Morrow to San Diego with a promise of even greater things ahead for the nation’s third-oldest continuously producing LGBT theatre. Matt Harding is general manager. Baby With The Bathwater’s production sponsor is Alan C. Campbell.
Though Baby With The Bathwater is more gay-adjacent than out-and-out gay gay gay, its sensibility couldn’t be gayer, nor its audiences promised a gayer old time during its one-month run. This is one baby not to be thrown out with the bathwater!
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, San Diego.
March 7, 2015
Photos: Daren Scott