Photo courtesy of Next Iteration Theater Company.
Written by: Lisa Boss Omlie
Directed by: Dianne K Webb
Company: Next Iteration Theater Co.
Run Dates: March 11 – 19, 2016
It’s highly unusual for me to review a play this late into the run. Historically when I have, it’s the result of being so positively gobsmacked that I’ve been compelled to sing the show’s praises in print. Unfortunately this is not one of those cases. The word gobsmacked can still accurately be used to describe my reaction to Lisa Boss Omlie’s new play, The Baby. But the astonishment this time around is one of bewildered disbelief at how so many things could be so glaringly wrong in one script.
Exhibit A is 28 year old Charlie Mulroney, the lead man running for Governor, who inexplicably has no previous political background or even commensurate profession. In fact, Charlie has no profession at all it seems. More importantly Charlie also lacks any of the charisma that would warrant his dominant position in the polls. We dismiss him right from the start.
Exhibit B is Jose Garcia, the top dog in charge of getting Charlie elected. Problem is that Jose is a Publicist not a Campaign Manager and would never hold the reins in this type of political run.
At best he would be 3rd man on the totem pole taking orders, writing speeches and putting forth ideas on how best to present the candidate to media. Even if he was in the room during important strategic decisions, he would certainly know better than to talk about sensitive issues while a journalist was present, which he does in the first 15 minutes of the play.
Exhibit C is a family secret. Well not so secret that a female journalist hasn’t got a hold of it. More on her later. The tip of the secret iceberg is that Charlie, son of a prominent family with political leaders in its family tree, is adopted. Who are his birth parents? He doesn’t know. And neither does his Publicist. They all agree that to keep it quiet is the best thing. At first I thought perhaps this was a play set in the 1960’s where the grueling vetting of a candidate by his team in order to anticipate any skeletons or weaknesses wasn’t de rigueur. But when Charlie uses a smart phone to call the birth record agency after a journalist starts nosing around, it’s apparent that this is a situation set in the present. Presumably after politicians have learned their lesson from the Sarah Palin fiasco.
Exhibit D takes us back to Penny Stripling, that female journalist. I say journalist with a snicker as Omlie is so far off in her depiction of what a political reporter does that I found myself stifling laughs throughout the show. In her first interview with Charlie (an interview that his Publicist lets him take alone which in itself is risible) Stripling softballs Charlie left, right and centre, never questioning his hardline views on abortion or his platform. Instead she shows all her cards by telling him that he should figure out who his birth parents are. What journalist with a scoop like that would give it away? Later in the play Stripling seems to throw off her ethical duties all together in order to actually work with Charlie while still employed at the paper. The reason? It’s because despite his abhorrent political views, she thinks he’s a good person at heart. Give me a break. Not only is this immensely disrespectful to the profession of journalism, it’s just plain bad storytelling.
Are we on Exhibit E already? Well this one concerns Charlie’s parents, Catherine and John, the ultimate mismatch of a couple. Catherine is a religious, tiger-mom pearl-clutcher who is frothing at the mouth over the prospect of her son winning the race. John could care less about politics and is far more interested in his research biology profession and whether his son is a good person or not. Opposite man and wife are nothing new to the stage, but here Omlie gives us no reason to think they belong together now or previously. They obviously dislike each other and with no credible backstory revealed as to why they ever fit in the first place, we cannot fathom why we should buy them as a couple at all.
Exhibit F brings us to the family again, this time it’s Charlie’s sister, Molly, a sweet 41 year old simpleton whose developmental delay will be eventually explained as the fullness of the family secret is revealed. The trouble with Molly isn’t so much her character per se, but rather how her mother reacts to her. Short tempered and cold to her daughter 99.9% of the time, it is a huge stretch for us to accept the one moment when Catherine, egged on by her husband, suddenly shows great love and care for the girl. If it looks fake and feels fake, it probably doesn’t belong in the script.
Exhibit G is for ginormous, as in that’s how pregnant Charlie’s wife Lynn is. She’s huge but healthy and we’ve all seen these women smiling proudly behind their candidate husbands indicating the power of life giving that a certain voter loves so much. Pregnancy and a young male candidate, is there any better media snapshot? Yet weirdly, Lynn never attends a rally or speech with her husband, instead remaining holed up against her will at her in laws house due to paint fumes in her and Charlie’s own home.
So the sound at least is good, no? Ladies and gentlemen I give you Exhibit H – the repetitive ‘give me a minute I’m thinking of the answer’ game show sound that populated the entire play. Tension is built with story line and dialogue, not simply by blaring music that makes us all think we need to come up with our Double Jeopardy answer toute suite!
At risk of using up the entire alphabet to express my frustration with this script I’ll end at Exhibit F– the soap opera-esque twist that is finally revealed in the climax of the play. Yes we find out who Charlie’s biologic parents are, why Molly is the way she is and what the journalist knew all along. Frankly none of it is much of a surprise. But it’s not the twist so much that’s the grievance here. It’s that once revealed, it goes nowhere. Omlie seems to have nothing substantive to say about the revelation nor do her characters. We learn nothing interesting about them, ourselves or society and as a result we’re left with little to think about except why we sat through 90 minutes of such misfired characterization, stagnant dialogue and untenable plot points.
Even with such a flawed script there are cases where a director or cast can rise above the material and made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Unfortunately not here.
Director Dianne K. Webb offers up no elevated motivation or meaning for her characters and as a result, despite trying their hardest, the cast comes across as stiff and one dimensional. Webb further damages the flow by a staging that has most performers simply standing or sitting in place, creating a cardboard effect all around. Only Rhett Martinez as the Publicist Jose seems to be able to use facial expressions and arm movements to punctuate his lines. The rest are like frozen Simple Simon players praying someone comes along and gives them better lines to deliver.
The biggest disappointment for me was Gabriel Regojo’s Charlie. Not long ago I watched Regojo in his professional stage debut and remarked on what a young talent he was. It irks me that no one attending this production will get a glimpse of that. Hampered by a totally rudderless and milquetoast character, Regojo can’t make Charlie compelling in the slightest and instead plows through the play just trying to stay afloat. It’s a shame, but as every critic knows, bad characters can happen to good actors. My hope is that once this is all over, he can shake it off and come back swinging.
Despite all of this there is thankfully one bright spot to end off with. The show looked terrific. In fact, I’ve have yet to see the MATCH small theatre transformed in such an appealing manner. Claire A. (Jac) Jones treated us to a 3 level interior house setting comprised of a bedroom, a living room and a study that calmly embodied the upper class of the Mulroney family without screaming it too loudly. I suppose if there is only one thing The Baby got right it’s a darn good thing that they got it very very right.