The title of this piece may bring to mind the movie Bringing Up Baby. But the only thing these two pieces have in common is one word.
This is sort of the story of Donna McAulffe (Kristen Bush) who may or may not have killed her two children – years apart from one another. So this is not a story for the timid of heart. And as written by Dennis Kelly this is not a story about one person. It is about the people who orbit her as well.
Donna’s mother Lynn, (Margaret Colin) is a woman torn between her daughter’s dilemma and her own career ambitions. With her daughter’s arrest comes a kind of public disgrace, as if she were the guilty mother herself. It throws her caboose off track, and she has to settle for running for city council instead of the House of Representatives. Darn that daughter of here!
Dr. Millard (Reed Birney) is a self proclaimed expert on women who murder their children and even has a disease all set to pop into the pipeline. He is fascinated by the women he studies to the extent that he can get lost in the analysis. A lie is not something that damages a person, it is a specimen to be observed:
Generally a lie is me and you both pretending to believe in something that’s untrue, and then agreeing not to talk about it.
The reporter (Michael Crane) goes after Donna’s story like a dog who has just discovered a passel of red meat. It is all about the byline, the position on the page, and the high it gives him.
Donna’s husband Martin (Francois Battiste) is caught in the web of did she or didn’t she, from which there is no escape. When he finally agrees to an interview it is only with the provision that he will answer yes or no questions – period. This does not stop the interview from exploding out of control.
At the center of all of this is Donna herself. Her guilt or innocence is never resolved – that is not Kelly’s intent. Rather he chooses to lead us into the very dark and very solitary space that Donna occupies. Her time in jail, while horrifying, is only slightly more terrifying than living with her own mother.
The supporting cast is marvelous. Margaret Colin hits lands squarely on target as Lynn, even though she is handed a soggy character resolution. Reed Birney shines as the doctor who is so fond of the sound of his own voice he cannot hear the silence that is on the other side of it. Michael Crane provides just the right amount of skunk oil to marinate his character. Francois Battiste turns in yet another excellent performance as the man who has lost everything and is expected to live.
This is a brave undertaking, and many of the pieces work just fine, but they don’t knit together to create whole cloth. Part of this is due to the nearly colorless performance of Ms. Bush, which seems to be a directorial choice, who begins her tale in a run-on monotone that is void of nuance. She picks up steam, however, and makes it to the finish line as a fully formed human being. But the time taken to get there is costly.
As well, a major drawback to this tale is the fact that this play purports to be a documentary: The following has been taken word for word from interviews and correspondence. But it is filled with private scenes that are neither. The intent is confusing, and the matter is never resolved. The context betrays the content, and the message is lost because the messenger is speaking a language we don’t understand. It is an evening that comes close, but ultimately does not deliver the goods.
Taking Care of Baby
By Dennis Kelly; directed by Erica Schmidt; sets by Laura Jellinek; costumes by Jessica Pabst; lighting by David Weiner; sound by Fitz Patton; production stage manager, Jillian M. Oliver; general managers, Florie Seery and Lindsey Sag; production manager, Joshua Helman; artistic line producer, Lisa McNulty. Presented by Manhattan Theater Club, Lynne Meadow, artistic director; Barry Grove, executive producer; Mandy Greenfield, artistic producer. At City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan, 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org. Through Dec. 8. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
WITH: Francois Battiste (Martin McAuliffe), Reed Birney (Dr. Millard), Kristen Bush (Donna McAuliffe), Amelia Campbell (Mrs. Millard/Jane/Waitress/Woman), Margaret Colin (Lynn Barrie), Michael Crane (Reporter/Man), Ethan Phillips (Jim/Old Man) and Zach Shaffer (Brian/Interviewer).