Theatre Reviews for 5-14 (Baby, Great American Cheese Sandwich, WASP)

Baby: Melissa Shepherd (front), Collette Delaney Barney (left) and Katie Bowles in CenterStage’s “Baby.”  Photo by Christy Lyn Ferrell

Baby: Melissa Shepherd (front), Collette Delaney Barney (left) and Katie Bowles in CenterStage’s “Baby.” Photo by Christy Lyn Ferrell

‘Baby’ celebrates joy and pain of childbirth
(Center Stage presents “Baby” at the Jewish Community Center through May 25. Directed by John Leffert. For tickets, call 459-0660.)

Even if you can’t relate to middle-class heterosexual procreation, you’ll enjoy the musical “Baby” at the Jewish Community Center. After all, you were a baby once, right? This Tony-nominated show will make you want to relive those happy times in the womb.

At first, John Leffert’s set design seems jarring. Large baby blocks in pastel colors line the stage. The marital bed resembles nursery furniture. A gigantic blue-eyed, blonde-haired, bigheaded baby looks on omnisciently as three couples conceive (or think they do). But as you are drawn slowly into the world of the baby, the colors become soothing. You just want to breathe in that newborn scent.

The baby looms large for these couples of disparate ages who are serendipitously connected to each other at a Midwestern university. Students Liz and Danny have just moved into a moldy basement apartment when Liz gets pregnant. She doesn’t want to get married, much to Danny’s disappointment. Athletic 30-somethings Pam and Nick want a baby but are having trouble making it happen. And just when their nest empties out, an unplanned pregnancy throws middle-aged Arlene and Alan for a loop. They can’t even remember the act that brought the child into being during a champagne-fueled 20th anniversary celebration.

In “Baby’s” world, the fathers can’t wait for their offspring to pop out. If only all babies were so wanted by their dads. When Jason Cooper (as Nick the jock) croons into his wife’s belly, the baby’s contentment is almost palpable. Danny (Michael Kirsch), decked out in his punk band costume, leads the men in the buoyant “The Fatherhood Blues,” as they express their mixed emotions of apprehension and pride.  

The energetic showstopper “I Want It All” is the play’s answer to the women’s dilemma of choosing between career and family. In 1983, when this musical premiered, this issue was fresh, but it’s a tad outdated now that lots of women bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan as a matter of course.

Colette Delaney Barney and Rusty Henle have the most complex roles as the middle-aged couple who let the baby teach them something about love. Barney is at her best in this production. I dare say she’s on the road to Patti Lupone-like status.

Effective lighting rounds out this production, subtly spotlighting the changes the couples go through while adjusting to the idea of parenthood. And talk about a showstopper — you simply won’t believe the stunning ending. I promise you’ll leave the theater with a smile. —Sherry Deatrick

WASP: Leah Michelle Roberts and Mike Brooks in Necessary Theatre’s production of Steve Martin’s “WASP.”  Photo by Susan Linville

WASP: Leah Michelle Roberts and Mike Brooks in Necessary Theatre’s production of Steve Martin’s “WASP.” Photo by Susan Linville

The ‘WASP’ takes the ‘Cheese’
(The Necessary Theatre presents Burton Cohen’s “The Great American Cheese Sandwich” and Steve Martin’s “WASP” at Kentucky Center’s MeX Theater May 15-17. Directed by Gil D. Reyes. For tickets, call 584-7777.)

The Necessary Theatre stages a double dose of American decorum in an evening of two back-to-back one acts. The first dish served is Burton Cohen’s “The Great American Cheese Sandwich,” and it becomes only slightly redeemed by the delicacy offered from the second course, Steve Martin’s “WASP.”

Each play presents a portrait of a family in the heartland struggling to maintain the values and virtues common to any perceived household from the 1950s. Both plays also occur on identical sets made from cardboard cutouts. Except for the table and chairs, everything else, including the food, looks as if it’s part of a giant Pop Art installation from Claes Oldenburg.

Cohen’s “Cheese Sandwich” is as flimsy as its cardboard set. Ma, Pa, Betsy and Tom are typical of many American families harboring massive amounts of guilt and denial. Everyone ignores the fact that Betsy (Briana Clemerson) is several months pregnant on her way to prom, and that Tom (Joe Hatfield) is a cross-dressing football player who spends too much time at his coach’s house while his wife is away. Pa (Tad Chitwood) constantly relives the moment when his beloved trusty cheese sandwich saved him and his family during the flood — trapped on the roof, he used the cheese to make a boat to float away in. The family has a bit of a crisis when all their corncobs go sour and Ma (Susan Linville) is unable to make her prize-winning corncob jelly. Reyes, Linville and Chitwood do their best in extracting the humor from this skit, but this is not the kind of absurdity that such great wit and intelligence needs to be tending to.

“WASP” is more in line with the material this company deserves, and luckily it follows as quickly as it does. Steve Martin’s script is nearly unbreakable, and every actor involved prevails in doing the work justice. Again we are in white 1950s America, and all signs of satisfaction are painted on — but as the paint starts to peel, all one can do is laugh. Leah Michelle Roberts plays Mom, and she gets funnier and funnier every time I see her.

Mike Brooks plays the head of this austere household, and his unyielding performance sets the tone for this entire family’s emotional breakdown. Mom talks to an omniscient voice played by Delilah Smyth, and her son (Ben Owens) also talks to his own imaginary superhero (James Cronin), while his sis (Susan Schroeder) mainly just talks to herself. The play is dark, funny and perfectly paced.

The two plays leave you thinking about our nation’s values and how many of us choose fantasy over reality, denial over truth. —Joey Yates