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‘Baby with the Bathwater’ prepares to shock and amuse Beloit

Edward Otto

Edward Otto

Baby with the Bathwater, the first of this year’s theater productions, will premiere on Thursday, Sept. 29, and run until Oct. 8. Written by playwright Christopher Durang and directed by John Kauffman, Baby with the Bathwater was first performed in 1983, 33 years ago. Though it’s very much an 80’s play, it’s dark and absurdist explorations of gender, identity, relationships and procrastination when writing essays make it feel particularly relevant to Beloit in 2016.

I had the opportunity to sit in on a speed run of the play, in which the play is stripped down and the cast say their lines at a much quicker pace than they’re used to. In addition to getting to observe this speedy sneak peek, I was lucky enough to speak with a few of the cast members and their director about their thoughts on the characters, the play and their production.

Aaron Hirst’19 is playing the role of Daisy, a young man who has to grapple with the severe effects that his parent’s questionable parenting methods have on his life. “The character,” said Hirst, “is just so confused. It’s such a question of identity, and for me personally as an actor trying to assume the identity of a confused identity, and an identity that changes a lot, makes it so that it’s something that I’m thinking about constantly.”

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Speaking on the tight knit nature of Baby with the Bathwater’s cast, Hirst credited both the small cast size and “pretty personal matter of the play. It’d be too awkward to not talk and be close to the people around you because [the script is] just so savage, unpleasant and emotionally grating in so many ways.”

Despite the sometimes savage nature of the play, Hirst is “really glad that they chose the play for this season,” as he thinks “it’s a really fitting time […] It’s such a period piece, but I think inadvertently it has a lot of really interesting messages for our current world, where gender is becoming such a discussed topic.”

Josie Prickett’18, who will be playing Ms. Pringle, one of Daisy’s teachers, as well as a justifiably judgemental “lady in park,” encourages audiences not to “take the [content of the] play too seriously.” Asked why audiences should come out to see the play, which she describes as “how not to raise a child” she said “you’re going to see a lot scenes that you would never expect, and probably be really shocked.”

Emma Sheehan’18, is playing Nanny, the most extreme character in a play full of unstable personalities. When talking about her very “in your face” character, Sheehan said “I feel like everyone operates on the same emotional plane in [the play], and then there’s Nanny.” The extreme nature of Nanny is found even in regards to costuming: “everyone else’s costume is decently modern[…] and I’m in this fucking Mary Poppins magical outfit fucking crawling around the stage.”

Sheehan was one the two students on the Season Selection Committee — the group which is tasked with deciding which performances to put on — and Baby with the Bathwater was one of the two plays she really wanted picked. She describes it as “a play that uses absurdities to comment on the realities of families.”

Ryan Jacquemet/The Round Table

Ryan Jacquemet/The Round Table

John Kauffman, assistant professor of theatre arts and the play’s director, echoed what many of his cast members had told me in saying that the play is certainly very funny but also a bit of “a downer.” Whether or not dark humor appeals to you, there is a large amount of content that one can relate to in the play. In Kauffman’s case, it’s the parenting.

“Being the parent of two young children, there’s how it it is, which is like, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful!’ But there’s also how it can feel, which is like, ‘Shut the fuck up!’”

Though the play is billed as a comedy, Kauffman has stressed to the cast that the play “is so unsettling that laughter shouldn’t be our measure of success.”

With regard to what makes it relevant for 2016, Kauffman said “the way it’s dealing with gender identity, in 1984, when there was not even a thought of ‘let’s go around and share our pronouns.’

“And yet, it’s from a gay man writing this play and some of the same tensions internally were there which I think lead to that,” he continued. “Also the sort of coming of age of a young person finding their way in an absurd world is something that students can relate to.”

“The play,” said Kaufman, “is in a mature style which is seductive in how wacky it is […] It’ll be interesting to see how audiences respond to it,” he added.

If my brief viewing of it can be any indication of success, the play is certainly worth attending. Its “seductive wackiness” is readily apparent in the first act, which features Olivia Love-Hatlestad’20 and Peter Gustafson’19 as Helen and John, the woefully unprepared and frequently drunk parents of Daisy in his infancy. Their unstable relationship makes for compelling and unsettling viewing, especially when Sheehan (the Nanny) is thrown into the mix. Other excellent cast-members include Taryn Hansen’20, Katrina Pasquinelli’20 and Claire Read’20.

For those who enjoy laughing and then feeling a little disconcerted about that laughter, the play cannot be more highly recommended.

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