Review: THE BABY

by Lynn on October 21, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Dan Spurgeon
Based on the screenplay by Abe Polsky
Set by Charles McWilliam
Costumes by Holly Lloyd
Sound by Dan Spurgeon
Lighting by Joseph Patrick
Cast: Frank Blocker
Claire Burns
Jeanie Calleja
Daniel Cristofori
Alex Dault
Jeff Dingle
Olivia Marshman
Nicholas Porteous
Alicia Richardson
Paul Rivers
Candi Zell

A lumbering effort to bring The Baby the 1973 obscure cult movie to the stage. Why, oh why would anybody bother?

The Story. The Wadsworth family is weird. Mama Wadsworth is a formidable woman who has two grown daughters (Alba (Alicia Richardson) and Germaine, (Claire Burns), each vying for the title of “Tart of the Year.” There is a twenty-something son named Baby who seems mentally challenged, hence the name Baby; is kept in a crib, wears diapers and can’t walk or talk. While Mama Wadsworth is overly protective of Baby she is also abusive, short-tempered and vicious. The two tart-daughters come by their lack of morals and brutality honestly. Ann Gentry is a social worker who takes a special interest in Baby and wants to save him from the Wadsworth mother and sisters. Ms Gentry is hiding her own secrets.

The Production. Writer-director Dan Spurgeon absolutely loves the obscure 1970s cult movie The Baby so much that he got the rights and re-wrote it for the stage. The result was apparently a hit at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival (which seems like a triple oxymoron). And in spite of Spurgeon’s gushing program note of how the show is ‘weird’, ‘ridiculously fun’, ‘twisted’, ‘silly’, ‘depraved’ ‘vulgar’ ‘ totally ridiculous spectacle’ and that what we will see will have our jaws dropping to the floor’ it’s all wishful thinking. Almost everything about The Baby is stultifyingly bad.

Spurgeon’s dialogue and direction are dire. The two tart-sisters are directed to be overtly trashy wearing scanty, tight clothes. They flounce, shake their booty; jiggle their jiggly bits and are perfectly one dimensional without any sense of irony. (Note: I know that Claire Burns as Germaine has acting chops because I’ve seen her elsewhere and look forward to seeing her again, elsewhere). Most of the characters are directed with a heavy hand, with two exceptions.

Mama Wadsworth, as played by Frank Blocker (you read that right), is caustic, gracious, dangerous and crazed but with style. She has that drop-dead-acid delivery of Eve Arden or Gloria Swanson. One gets the sense that the success of creating Mama Wadsworth has everything to do with Frank Blocker and precious little to do with his director Dan Spurgeon. In scene after scene Spurgeon has Mama Wadsworth stand near a character to whom she is speaking, then for no reason at all, she turns, walks a few steps away and then faces the character again and addresses that person from a distance.

Huh? What is that? She moves for no reason except to move. And it happens often. Speaking lame dialogue either close or from afar is still lame. Moving the character won’t distract the audience from noticing.

The other exception is Jeanie Calleja as Ann Gentry, the social worker with a deep secret. Calleja is always in the moment, watchful, both concerned and yet mysterious. As played by both actors, you believe that both Mama Wadsworth and Ann Gentry are part of a story worth spoofing, or are in a story that could spook you.

Comment. Many cult movies have nicely transitioned from the screen to the stage; Evil Dead: The Musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dracula just to name three. They have their own theatrical style and wit that carries on from the movie and will endure. The Baby has none of that.

You have to wonder just what it was about the movie The Baby that Dan Spurgeon was so enamoured of that he thought it could have a life on stage. What I get from his program note is that he wanted pay homage to the cult movie by making it into a stage play that would then illuminate the movie. HUH? I’m in a theatre watching an homage to a movie without any sense of theatricality of its own? Now that can’t be right.

The Baby’s rightful place is in a fringe festival where things are down and dirty. Perhaps expectations are relaxed. But if you put it in a proper theatre with all sorts of build-up and self-promoting gush, then you are fair game when it comes time to review. This is a show that relatives of the cast and their best friends from grade three will appreciate- maybe. For the rest, skip it.

The Wadsworth Family Collective present:

From: October 15, 2015.
To: October 1, 2015.
Cast: 11: 6 men, 5 women.
Running Time: 75 minutes.

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