A polyamorous queer relationship must have seemed transgressive and bold in 1984 when Paula Vogel’s “And Baby Makes Seven” debuted, but today, the relationship is not what is most interesting. As the experience of seeing the Strand Theater Company’s production illustrates, it’s the extreme acceptance of the three adult characters’ role-playing as children to deal with the impending welcoming of an actual child into their home.
The very pregnant Anna (Katherine Vary) and her lover, Ruth (Jess Rivera), are preparing to co-parent with Peter (Grant Emerson Harvey), a gay friend and the biological father of the naturally conceived baby. Rounding out the seven titular characters are the unborn baby and three child alter-egos Anna and Ruth regularly slip into while in the privacy of their home.
The more anxious the adults become of the birth of their baby, the more their own child alter-egos surface, often expressing intense emotions that their adult selves repress. I didn’t pay too much attention in my college psych class, but even I can recognize the id-ego-superego of the three imaginary children personas: a feral orphan named Orphan, French loose cannon Henri and precocious Cecil.
Vogel’s script is full of baby-talk and surface-level fluff, and many of the audience members at the performance I attended were cracking up at the actors’ child-like antics. However, a disturbing undertone–which may or may not be intentional–made it difficult for me to find much of the action funny.
Notably uncomfortable is the adults’ decision to kill off the three child personas, especially because the actors make the children seem like an accepted and beloved part of their lives. Some choices by actors and by director Emily Hall may be intended as comedic–and as mentioned earlier, some audience members loved it–but a lot were unsettling, like Peter and Ruth throwing around a baby doll like a football after giving up trying to correctly change its diaper.
Other squirm-worthy moments: a suggestion that the imaginary 8-year-old character of Henri impregnated his adult mother, Anna, and the graphic “death” from rabies by the imaginary feral orphan named Orphan.
Vary has some strong emotional moments as Anna, especially in her scenes with Harvey, who has appealing stage presence and excellent timing as Peter. The two share a touching scene when Peter talks about his own childhood and Anna admits that she based her child alter-ego on him.
Rivera fully commits to Ruth’s two child alter-egos–the loose and inappropriate Henri and wild-child Orphan–and seems to be having a great time while throwing her body around stage in a PB&J battle between the two. Ruth’s jealousy, and maybe a bit of regret for not having any of her genes carry on to the real-life child, are expressed through Henri and Orphan, and then directly by Ruth in a monologue delivered while walking through the audience.
This is one of the many times Hall has the actors directly deliver lines to the audience, and one of the only times it seems to work. The other times are awkward and unnecessary. There are some other choices that miss the mark, too, like how Ruth excitedly suggests they kill their fake children alter egos, but her reaction to the deaths is all over the place, ranging from completely disconnected to deeply emotional. It was confusing, and made scenes that could have evoked emotion fall a little flat.
“And Baby Makes Seven” presents an intriguing premise, and the Strand’s production has some effective emotional points and a strong cast. However, off-key acting and directing choices take away from the effectiveness of this story that admirably promotes radical acceptance.
“And Baby Makes Seven” runs through April 21 at The Strand Theater Company, 5426 Harford Road. For tickets and more information, visit strand-theater.org.