Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Dennis Kelly's TAKING CARE OF BABY at the Manhattan Theatre Club Stage 2

     In the manner of the best British contemporary television drama, Dennis Kelly's fascinating play, TAKING CARE OF BABY, combines two stories that seen too disparate to mix. One is the "did she or didn't she" story of a young woman accusing of killing her two small children, then being exonerated. Did she kill them? If she did, was it because of a mental disease? Was it a mistake to free her? Certainly Donna (Kristen Bush) is unstable with moments of being totally unhinged. The second narrative focuses on the rise of  Lynn (Margaret Colin), a very savvy female politician. On one hand, these narratives are linked because Lynn is Donna's mother and Lynn has used the media attention of Donna's trial, imprisonment and exoneration to her own benefit. Is Lynn the devoted mother she seems to be or a bit of a monster? Her son died of a drug overdose, so if Lynn hasn't killed her children, she may be a source of their problems. Donna is certainly eager to get away from her. Television would interweave these yarns to create an effective melodrama, which Kelly deftly does; but Kelly has a larger topic -- truth. Dr. Millard, a smug psychiatrist, tells the audience that human beings can tell truth from lies, but sometimes choose not to. He also states that the cause of much contemporary malaise is our being swamped by falsehood. We're much more content if we can believe what we hear, but can we do that anymore? Politicians like Lynn lie. Journalists lie. Psychiatrists lie. Parents lie. We all know it. How do we live with it?
      To emphasize this idea, TAKING CARE OF BABY is presented as if it were one of those docudramas in which facts are edited, condensed and reshaped to make an effective theatre piece (another falsification). As in many of these works, the actors come on stage and seat themselves in a row of chairs. A voice repeatedly tells us that what we will see is the truth with only the names changed. But is anyone in the play capable of telling the truth? Donna's ex-husband insists that he only answer an interviewer's questions with "yes" or "no," but ultimately this is impossible. What does that say about courtroom procedure? Lynn is offered a place as the Republican's candidate and turns it down ("I'd rather eat broken glass"), thus winning the hearts of a New York liberal audience. Ultimately she accepts the Democrat's nomination and wins, but does just what the Republicans wanted anyway. The scenes of political doublespeak are particularly brilliant.
     TAKING CARE OF BABY is intelligent, funny in places, but also unsettling. It is spot on about the world we live in -- about the lies we choose to live with. Director Erica Schmidt has captured just the right tone and tempo for the play and the eight member cast couldn't be better, particularly Bush and Colin.
     Well worth seeing.
TAKING CARE OF BABY. Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II, December 4, 2013

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