By Pat Launer
Playwright Christopher Durang loves to shoot holes in sacred cows, from religion (“Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You”) to Chekhov (“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”). In 1983, he took aim at parenthood, in “Baby with the Bathwater,” which hasn’t been seen in a professional San Diego production for decades.
Like most of Durang’s absurdist satires, it’s tricky in tone and tough to get right. Sometimes, his work verges on hysteria. Sometimes it tells uncomfortable truths in lunatic outbursts. All of this appears in abundance in Diversionary Theatre’s production.
A skilled ensemble, under the direction of Andrew Oswald, navigates the play’s wacky waters with aplomb. Over the top? For sure. Shrieky? You bet. On the edge of over-the-brink? At times. But also whip-smart (crammed with literary references, of the arcane and insider type).
You have to be in the right frame of mind, willing to accept whatever comes your way: inebriated, clueless, abusive parents; a sadistic Nanny; a careless mother whose newborn was eaten by her dog; and much more.
It’s not everyone’s cup of comic tea. But buried deep within the loud, bipolar insanity, there are kernels of genuine (universal) feelings: parental worries and resentments; offspring anger and hostility. There’s also a Message (from an offstage shrink) about Moving On — and one suggesting, at the very end, that twisted history doesn’t necessarily have to repeat itself.
In between, there’s a surfeit of silly, but with a cast this good, you just sit back and let the polluted bathwater wash over you. Help comes from a whimsical, childlike set (Kristen Flores) and exclamation-point lighting (Chad Shelton), sound (Melanie Chen), costumes (Kate Bishop) and wigs (Kim Parker).
You can relish Shana Wride and Kailey O’Donnell’s multiple nutjob characterizations, from immoral Nanny to amoral Principal, earnest teacher to ignorant mother; Brian Mackey and Amanda Sitton’s perfectly-matched neuroses as the inept, self-medicated parents; and J. Tyler Jones’ wonderful way with an abused and confused son who’s raised as a girl until he discovers his real gender — at age 17.
Just because it’s farcically wicked doesn’t mean you should throw out the titular infant and its immersion.
- “Baby With The Bathwater” runs through March 29 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights
- Performances are 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, with extra performance at 6 p.m. on Sunday March 29
- Tickets ($29-$51) are available at 619-220-0097 or onine at www.diversionary.org
- Running time: 2 hrs.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.