Babies, Bombs and Love
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 15, 2005
Babies, bombs & love is a program of six short plays by members of the Waverly Writers Collective, one of numerous entities scattered all around New York City providing development support for new and emerging playwrights. The title is not so fortuitous and neither, for the most part, are the scripts nor the productions seen here. But there are glimmers of talent evident, and these should be nurtured.
The evening begins with Below 14th, which is written and directed by the group's co-founder (and one of its most prolific members), Laura Rohrman. It's a 9/11 play, set in a restaurant in the months following a much more cataclysmic event even than the World Trade Center attacks: Manhattan below 14th Street has apparently been turned into a permanent frozen zone, because its residents are presumed to be both contaminated and contagious. One of these residents is a haughty actress named Babe, who journeys out of quarantine for a clandestine meeting with her ex-boyfriend Chris, who is a scientist. Rohrman attempts, in too brief a time, satirical comment on our celebrity-obsessed culture and a conspiracy thriller with political overtones; there's a good idea for a longer play here, but the execution of this 10-minute piece is quite muddled. Vanessa Zamora makes a good impression as the actress.
Love in the Time of Atkins, a monologue written by Jason Nunes and performed by Meghan Scibona, is about a woman with unhealthy eating habits whose fit boyfriend put her on a diet, literally locking the refrigerator door on her. Today, sans boyfriend, she's trim and happy, the Atkins way. The punchline of this not-very-funny and quite distasteful piece comes right out of the musical Chicago; after that's revealed, Nunes adds another twist that's either sick or dark depending on your point of view. Either way, this play is unsuccessful. I was never clear who it was that Scibona's character was talking to, or why she was prancing around the stage as if, well, she knew she was on a stage. Nunes, who directed his own script here, should work on providing a clearer and better-reasoned-out context for a one-person play the next time around.
The third item on the program, David Caudle's Feet of Clay, recently won the Samuel French Short Play Festival. This does not, in my opinion, speak well for that institution. It's a one-joke comedy whose joke is in extremely bad taste: two men, on vacation with their wives, are left alone for an afternoon; one of them asks the other if he can take photographs of the other's feet. It amounts to 15 minutes of making fun of foot fetishists, which strikes me as neither respectful nor entertaining. Steven McElroy (as the fetishist) and John G. Preston (as the festishee) deliver the most professional performances of the evening, nonetheless.
Loving Gene Hackman, by Jennie Eng, feels like the most promising entry of the six on view here. Set in a bar, it depicts the (probably) final meeting between two lifelong friends. He's about to be married and is going to move to Texas; she has just found out and is trying to understand why he has been avoiding her lately. Eng navigates the revelations about their relationship with real sensitivity; I wish she had resisted the urge to throw in as much coarse dialogue as she did, however. Her characters, developed with economy and skill, are genuinely human; I would have liked to like them.
Uri/Nara and a Baby by Kyoung Park attempts to use two Korean roommates to symbolize the conflict between North and South Korea. It fails; this is one of the most negligible scripts I have come across in a very long time. Park resorts to a gross-out ending—that the roommates will kill and eat the baby that one of them adopted—in order to try to make some kind of point.
The final piece, and the longest, is Aurin Squire's Baby Talk. It tells the story of a young African American woman who, lacking other job prospects after college, agrees to work as a nanny for one of her professors. The play starts out as a lesson in tolerance, as this young woman, Jasmine, reluctantly finds herself bonding with a bossy Jamaican nanny named Mary. Later it becomes a plea against classism and racism, as Jasmine stands up to her selfish employer after Mary (more or less innocently) tries to give her baby a little taste of rum. An unnecessary epilogue adds a third theme, about the conflict between artistic integrity and commercial success. As you can probably tell, there's too much going on here for a successful twenty-minute play. But Squire's black female characters are interesting and well-rounded (the white professor is a cipher and a stereotype); there's an enlightening and amusing play to be created from the relationship between Mary and Jasmine.